There are some talents who are maddening due to the inconsistencies in their work. In his look at Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan, David Churchill examined the some of those very inconsistencies that, nevetheless, still kept him watching.
|Director Neil Jordan|
The Borgias, the TV series he created/wrote (and directed the first two episodes) which just completed its first season. Like many of his films, there were some erratic moments, but the sublime finale, as patriarch Rodrigo Borgias (Jeremy Irons, who looked like he was having a good time with a role for the first time in years) played the various other characters like a violin, was almost perfect. It was so good it made me crave the second season (the show was renewed). I enjoyed The Borgias so much that I finally relented and picked up a copy of Ondine (I bought it, previously viewed, from my DVD shop since it was cheaper to do so than rent it). The premise is similar to John Sayles' overlong and stiff film The Secret of Roan Inish. Colin Farrell is a loner fisherman named Syracuse who everybody dismissively calls Circus because his life is an out-of-control circus. Among other things, he's a reformed drunk who lost custody of his beloved daughter (she's confined to a wheelchair due to kidney failure) when his wife left him for another man (he at least has quit the booze though his ex-wife has not). One evening as he hauls in his nets, he pulls up what he at first thinks is the corpse of a young woman (Alicja Bachleda). Soon after he brings her aboard, she starts to breathe.
Ondine is a lovely, if slight film. Since shedding his own desire to become a Hollywood leading man in such bad movies as S.W.A.T. and The Recruit, Farrell has become an interesting actor. He still does the Hollywood stuff (2006's Miami Vice and the upcoming remake of Total Recall, now shooting in Toronto), but he happily alternates it with strong work such as In Bruges, Triage, and The Way Back. In Ondine, he is helped immeasurably by Jordan's sensitive writing and direction. Farrell crafts a character wracked with pain he barely understands who, finally, has luck enter his life (or as Ondine says at one point when he says “I'm never lucky,” “Well, maybe it's your turn.”)
|Billie Whitelaw in Beckett's Not I|
Perhaps this short film can simultaneously define his strengths and his weaknesses as a filmmaker. First, he is drawn to challenging material such as Not I, but he also seems to forget sometimes what made the material work. Not I only works as a mouth and a single light. By trying to make it his own, he loses the 'plot'. Yet when he gets it right, with material he's written such as Company of Wolves, The Good Thief, and Ondine, Neil Jordan combines originality with a strong humanist touch creating wonderful works that linger in the mind long after they have finished.
- originally published on June 4, 2011 in Critics at Large.