Dir/scr: John Boorman. Ire-UK. 2006. 106mins.
John Boorman's admirers,uneasily awaiting his latest feature after the disappointment of Country Of My Skull,can rest easy. Back on familiar ground - Dublin - and reunited with a sterlingBrendan Gleeson, The Tiger's Tail isan alternately funny and thoughtful doppelganger story that may well see theveteran Irish director enjoy a good profile at box-offices worldwide. His most satisfyingfilm since The General may not be asprofound or complex as some of his earliest work but it is certainly asentertaining.
Although thedevice of relaying a narrative through identical twins is hardly new - it hasbeen used before for anything from horror (DeadRingers) to broad comedy (Twins)- Boorman's approach puts his own personal stamp onthe theme, making for a smart and perspicacious work very much related to thenew face of Ireland.
Initially histale of two twins separated at birth - one now a successful businessman, theother a bum - works pretty well as a comedy but it then gains in perspectiveand depth once when transposed into a contemporary context. Fast-paced, and almostplaying like a thriller at a certain moments, this is one of those rare itemsthat is bound to please most critics and wideaudiences as well. The film screened at San Sebastian.
Liam O'Leary (BrendanGleeson) is a tough, ruthless businessman, a real estate developer swingingmillions of euros in and out of his bank accounts and bribing top politiciansto obtain all the permits he needs.
His marriage toJane (Kim Cattrall) is going somewhat stale after 20years and the good-humored rebellious tendencies of his 16-year-old son, Connor(Briain Gleeson, son of Brendan), who deems himself acommunist, are only to be expected at his age.
O'Leary dotes onhis mother (Moira Deady), who is much closer to hisolder sister Oona (Sinead Cusack);the only thing that troubles him when we first meet him, stuck in a massivetraffic jam, is that his bribes have still not gained him planning permissionfor a multi-million pound stadium. Without the permit he can get no bankcredit, throwing a spanner into the wheels of the smooth capitalist machine hekeeps running at top speed.
As he slowlycrawls home in his Mercedes, he is shocked to glimpse, just for a moment, hisexact double, busily washing his windscreen. From this moment on his life turnsupside down through a series of shocks. First he discovers that he was adopted,then who his biological mother is, before finally realisingthat he has a twin brother.
Before he can doanything, his brother (Gleeson also) - who remains nameless for the rest of thepiece - takes over his life, replacing him both in his wife's bed and at hisoffice. Boorman's twist is that this imposter, whoinitially acts both to seek revenge for his lot in life and to get his hands onquick money, eventually realises that thisalternative life is not as much fun as he envisaged.
Boorman's script starts so brilliantly that it riskslosing steam later on, peppered as it is with quotable one-liners (Liamdescribes his haunted conduct after first seeing his twin as like 'livingin a Kafka novel and quoting Hamlet'; he also states that 'the morehomes you build, the more homeless there are'). But the impetuous Brendan Gleeson,who brilliantly plays both brothers, avoids such pitfalls.
One may betempted to wonder how supporting characters in the story cannot tell thebrothers apart, given the plethora of identification methods such as DNAtesting. But such trifles will not worry audiences as Boormansarcastically comments on all aspects of modern Ireland from the health serviceand drunken teenagers to politics and what's wrong with lawyers.
There are clevertouches, such as calling a rogue priest Moriarty (as in Sherlock Holmes'nemesis). But Boorman also knows how to play adifferent register, reflecting on problems of identity - doppelgangers are notonly a metaphor for schizophrenia but also identity confusion - or explainingthe high toll of teen suicide attempts in Ireland as 'suicide bombers protestingagainst what we have become'.
The ending, whichis somewhat reminiscent of the departure point in novels like Pirandello's The Late Mathias Pascal or films like Sacha Guitry's La Vie d'Un Honnete Homme, seems almostarbitrary by comparison.
Efficiently shotand cut, Boorman relies on a solid line-up ofsupporting roles, with Gleeson's son, Briain, playingthe Marxist teenager with the casual confidence of a trooper. Ciaran Hinds brings compassion to the understanding priest,while Kim Cattrall contributes a shot of classicglamour. And if anyone wonders who Gleeson is wrestling with, at the end of thefilm, on the beach, it is his own brother, Frank.