Being the resident Jew with Irish Catholic heritage, I always do look forward to watching Ireland-set films around this time of year. I chose to highlight five of these last year and with there being no shortage of such films, here are five more. Watch these with a six pack of stouts at the ready.
Bad Day For The Cut (dir. Chris Baugh, 2017)
Imagine if Blue Ruin took place in Northern Ireland, and you might have something like Bad Day for the Cut. It’s a revenge thriller that follows Donal (Nigel O’Neill), a middle aged man still living with his mother, who unleashes a fury of violence after she is killed in a home invasion. What seems at first like a random act turns out to go much deeper, and ignites a long standing blood feud as the body count rises. There’s a strong dose of Irish dark comedy throughout, which also means it leans into sentimentality at times. If you are a fan of genre films, this is a perfect movie to watch this weekend.
The Boxer (dir. Jim Sheridan, 1997)
Jim Sheridan is one of the pre-eminent Irish directors of our time, and in the 90’s made a trilogy of films with Daniel Day Lewis; My Left Foot, In The Name Of The Father, and The Boxer. If you are sad about DDL’s retirement after watching Phantom Thread, this is a great movie to watch. He plays Danny Flynn, a former IRA soldier turned boxer who tries to lead a normal life after he’s released from prison. In his typical method preparation, he trained intensely for the part, and it shows. His performance in the ring is a thing to behold. The rest of the movie is pretty good too, but sitting in awe of the boxing scenes alone makes it worthwhile.
The Crying Game (dir. Neil Jordan, 1992)
The Crying Game is perhaps best remembered for its meme-ified full frontal nudity, which is a shame- because it is one of the better films of the 1990’s. It follows an IRA soldier named Fergus (Stephen Rea) seeking out the girlfriend of a British soldier he became close with. It’s a rare movie of the period that seeks not to offer some half-hearted plea for everyone to just get along, but rather uses the Troubles as a backdrop to tell a noirified story about desire, in the tradition of Vertigo. In doing so, The Crying Game dips unexpectedly into themes of sexuality, race and gender, making it much more than your average IRA thriller.
Gangs Of New York (dir. Martin Scorsese, 2002)
Speaking of Daniel Day, no retrospective on his career is complete without the movie that arguably began his modern chameleonic phase. As English nativist gang boss Bill The Butcher, he rules the Five Points neighborhood in Civil War era Manhattan, taking a young Irish ruffian named Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) under his wing. Yet it won’t be long before Amsterdam’s hidden identity is revealed, while the highly diverse neighborhood, fraught with ethnic tension, explodes like a powder keg. Taking on issues of immigration, religion, politics and class, Gangs Of New York is a story of the battles over inequality that forged America.
Miller’s Crossing (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen, 1990)
Miller’s Crossing tells a similar story to Gangs Of New York, set decades later but through a Coen brothers old testament lens. The film stars Gabriel Byrne as Tom Reagan, an enforcer and advisor to Irish mob boss Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney), and a man in love with Leo’s girlfriend Verna (Marcia Gay Harden). Leo’s gang comes into conflict with the Italian boss Jonny Caspar (Jon Polito) over Leo’s allegiance to Verna’s brother Bernie (John Turturro), a Jewish bookie who had double crossed Caspar…and it only gets more complicated from there. It’s simply a brilliant slice of gangster noir, one of the Coen’s very best films and a story of Irish, Italians and Jews occupying the same small slice of land; basically, how America can maybe never truly work because we are all too different. Bringing together the film perfectly is Carter Burwell’s score, perhaps the best he’s ever done, a masterwork of Celtic lightness which stands at odds with the brutality onscreen.