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Breakfast On Pluto
cast: Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, and Gavin Friday

director: Neil Jordan

104 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Path´┐Ż DVD Region 2 rental / retail
[released 15 May]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Hey, I remember this young pup, Neil Jordan. He used to thrill us with skip happy and hop-along exciting little films, the audiences and critics in concord appreciation. Occasionally, he would give us cause for concern, normally when trying to please Americans (High Spirits, We're No Angels), but he'd be back soon after with another film that shouts his considerable quirky talent. Jordan is one of those directors with a casual best and his is the kinetic and intelligent kind, abilities he shares Alan Parker and John Boorman. Breakfast On Pluto is a 'nearly there', a film victim to too much, dancing around on a crowded dance floor inevitably to bump.

It's the 1950s and, in a small Irish town, baby Patrick Braden is left on a church doorstep. The priest promptly relays him to a parishioner to whom he will become great cause for consternation, particular with his penchant for fashioning himself in his mother and sister's clothing. There is friendship in a small group of outsiders, Irwin, a sullen lad, Charlie, the only half-caste girl in town, and the local mongoloid lad. When, as a teenager, Patrick (Cillian Murphy) learns that the priest, Father Liam (Liam Neeson) that rejected him on the doorstep is his true father, and that the school are repeatedly going to respond badly to his foul English essays, he ups and leaves, to look for his mother, the priest's former maid. He immediately catches a lift with the glam rock band Billy Hatchet (Gavin Friday) and the Mohawks who sing covers of Running Bear and Wig Wam Bam, and falls for the lead singer, who reciprocates much to the disbelief and chagrin of the band members.

His spell as Hatchet's squaw doesn't go down well with audiences and he holes up close to home in a caravan belonging to Billy. When Irwin becomes involved in a paramilitary faction their mongoloid friend is killed when mistaking a bomb disposal robot for a Dalek. It is the first true upset for Patrick and he relocates to London, where he understands his mother to be. There are more adventures in showbiz, first as Madame Cholet in a Womble theme village, then as a Grand Guignol magician's assistant. Charlie turns up pregnant with Irwin's child and on their departure Patrick is caught up in a bomb blast. The fate of the royal engineer he was dancing with at the time is undisclosed but at least he thought he was dancing with the woman of his dreams at the moment of death if he was killed. And there's more!

Breakfast On Pluto is quirky, busy, episodic, a two-hour flit through the diaries of a young maybe creating merry havoc in the Catholic community. Problem is, fizzle as the film does when the film takes a rare go slow, Patrick is flagged up as a selfish and unlikeable kid, his affectations made sufferable by the whirlpool of strangeness that surrounds him. It is never more pronounced than when the film pulls up at the kerb with Mr Silky String's (Bryan Ferry) car to give Patrick a lift. Ferry gives one of the worst performances on film with every syllable delivered wrongly. Their affected voices threaten to disappear under the dashboard, the film stalls and you suddenly realise how impossibly awful Patrick is without the accompanying eccentricities. Everyone but Billy and Mr Silky String are flawed but likeable. The film resumes immediately but it is an opening to allow you spot not only what is weak in this scene but what was existent in others, and could become the curse of subsequent viewings. Cillian Murphy prized the role of the pretty, young transvestite, what acting kudos would come with that. He had badgered Jordan to activate the script before he became too old to take the part, and he gets away with playing a 16-year-old for the first chunk of the film. But it is a performance we have seen before, once brave, now an unimpressive wan and effete template revisited. Fortunately, he is a cypher for the trot of bizarre ideas and misadventures, and though he is the propelling character, clearly Patrick is not the entire film. Jordan had previously adapted McCabe's The Butcher Boy, which possessed a similar transient period freakiness and creakiness with comic fantasy interruptions. I really do think the film could have done without the irritating CGI robins that chirp gossip about the townsfolk.

Bryan Ferry may have embarrassed himself and should be forbidden from holding a script in his hands ever again, but as singer-come-actors go, Gavin Friday comes out of the flick okay as Billy Hatchet. The former Virgin Prunes' caterwauler has an aesthetic de cool as the glam singer with sideburns the size of subcontinents and brings a little something extra to the popular standards. I would even go as far as to say I prefer their version of The Sweet's Wig Wam Bam. He resembles Kurt Russell, and says a lot with the smallest of gestures. When he gets upset with Patrick for chucking a small arsenal of guns into the reservoir, Friday's inexperience shows and he struggles to hold back some raw emotion, but that verging on the real only adds to the performance. The cast is made up with a lot of fine actors (Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are often good in good films, I Went Down, The Girl With The Pearl Earring, Disco Pigs and they both appeared together in 28 Days Later) but it is the newcomers Lawrence Kinlan and Ruth Negga (as Irwin and Charlie), and the players cast against type, Ian Hart as the thug cop with confusingly considerate streak, who come out of the film the best. Stephen Rea is equally fascinating, borderline disturbing even, as Bertie the magician. He is borderline-besotted with Patrick, and too quickly forgotten by the story, and by Patrick, when simply and literally dragged away from his company. I have a deeply felt suspicion that this is a film that with viewer familiarity will deteriorate in favour. I would like to hope not. But as it stands, first time met, it is a beautifully shot patchwork of sketches that entertains and sates.

Extras include a photo gallery, a brief making of documentary, commentaries from Neil Jordan and Cillian Murphy and the trailer. A 'spool' of extended sequences is of particular interest, an educational introduction even to the art of the director and the editor. Most of the shots were quite rightly removed as unnecessary or wrong and it would provide a useful tool for youngsters interested in film determining why. The extra time on the Border Knights section, however, would have added something to an otherwise unsatisfactorily short sequence.
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