Irish Eye on Hollywood

Michael Madsen in a scene from Strength and Honor.

By Tom Deignan, Editor-in-Chief
December / January 2008

The Irish and boxing are longtime Hollywood staples, from John Wayne as the reluctant slugger in The Quiet Man right up to Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man and Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. In December, a Cork-born writer-director and quirky American actor are going to take their shot at the genre with Strength and Honor. Buzz on the film is solid. True, one gossip web site said the film combines a couple of genres – the “poor and miserable Irish people movie and the boxing movie,” but Strength and Honor (written and directed by Mark Mahon) did win Best Picture and Best Actor at the recent Boston Film Festival. It was the first time a single movie nabbed these two awards. Strength and Honor is about an Irish-American boxer (Michael Madsen, best known for his psycho ear-chopping role in Reservoir Dogs), who may have to break a promise he made to his wife when he finds out his son is dying.

The wife, by the way, is also dead. So, yes, it appears this movie is heavy on the Irish trauma.  It also explores the underground world of Irish travelers and their penchant for bare-knuckle boxing.

Strength and Honor was filmed in Mahon’s native Cork last year and also stars Patrick Bergin, Richard Chamberlain and Vinnie Jones.

After his triumph at the Boston Film fest, Mahon said: “To win top awards at such a prestigious festival is surreal – competition was fierce this year with a large number of high profile titles competing. We’re absolutely ecstatic that Michael Madsen won for his superb lead performance.”

Meanwhile, the Irish ring chronicles continue with buzz building about a Brad Pitt-Mark Wahlberg pairing. The dynamic duo is slated to star in The Fighter, a film based on the life of “Irish” Mickey Ward.

Pitt is expected to play Ward’s half-brother Dickie Eklund, a tough boxer in his own right, who pushed Ward to the top of the fight game.

Critically-acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) is shooting the movie. In recent interviews, Wahlberg has said he idolized Irish Mickey Ward while growing up in working-class Dorchester, Massachusetts. Ward grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts.

“Mickey Ward was, in my opinion, one of the greatest champions of all time, and the biggest heart that ever stepped into the ring,” Wahlberg recently said. “I am committed to making him proud, and I know that Brad feels the same way about portraying his brother Dickie. We are going to make it real.” The Fighter is slated for release in 2009.

It’s not exactly a happy holiday film, but Daniel Day-Lewis’ epic There Will Be Blood is set for release the day after Christmas. Directed by hip auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love), the movie is based on a novel by muckraker Upton Sinclair and looks at corruption following the discovery of oil in Texas. Oil? Corruption? Texas? It’s safe to say a few reviewers are going to see echoes of the present day in this historical movie.

Colin Farrell will star alongside Ewan McGregor in Woody Allen’s next movie Cassandra’s Dream, due for release in late November. In yet another British-set movie for the New York directing legend, Cassandra’s Dream follows English brothers lured into a life of crime.

The movie “is simply a story of some very nice young people who get caught up because of their weaknesses and ambitions in a tragic situation,” Allen said after the film premiered at the Venice film festival. “They mean well. They were raised decently, but it turns out that their own events and own actions bring them to a tragic demise at the end of the movie.”

Initial reviews of the movie are not very inspiring. Word is that both Farrell and McGregor sport accents reminiscent of Dick Van Dyke’s in Mary Poppins, while The Independent newspaper in Britain said, “To many critics, it seemed feeble and dispiriting fare – the work of an old master in decline.”

The Oscars will not be held until February 2008 but the Irish film community is already making cinematic history.

The Irish movie Kings, starring Colm Meaney, Brendan Conroy and Donal O’Kelly, has become the first movie from Ireland to be submitted to the Oscars for consideration as top film in a foreign language.

Written and directed by Tom Collins, Kings explores a group of Irish-speaking men who leave the west of Ireland for London in the 1970s. They are so filled with hopes and dreams, they believe they can someday be “kings.”

The men meet up 30 years later when one of their pals dies. “I know it’s always dangerous to have messages in films, but I hope people will watch Kings and empathize with the whole experience of emigrants in a foreign land and how hard it is for them to find their way home,” director Tom Collins said. “This is a universal story – it’s not just about paddies.” Kings was shot in Belfast, London and Dublin last year.

“Kings is a powerful and moving story that transcends its native language and can communicate universally with its raw and honest storyline,” Aine Moriarty, CEO of The Irish Film and Television Academy, recently said.

Each year, the Academy Awards accept one foreign language film from eligible nations. The five finalists will be announced in January.

Speaking of Colm Meaney, he will join fellow Irish actor Jason O’Mara on the ABC TV show Life on Mars. The show is a remake of a BBC show based on a time-traveling cop. Look for it mid-season on ABC.

Actor Paddy Considine cemented his reputation with Irish film fans in Jim Sheridan’s New York immigrant tale In America. He’s also appeared in blockbusters such as The Bourne Ultimatum. Now, Considine says his own Irish Catholic background (his dad was born in Limerick) has inspired him to make his own short film Dog Altogether. The film is a loosely biographical look at Considine’s dad, who in the film is played by Scotsman Peter Mullan.

The film had its world premiere earlier this year in Edinburgh and looks at Irish immigrants living in Britain. Considine recently said: “Within an Irish Catholic background often you do inherit a sense of guilt even though I’m not practicing. Sometimes you think of things you have done and want forgiveness. You think – ‘I did something wrong and I should be punished.’ I suppose that’s inherent in me and the film.”

The plight of immigrants is also at the center of The Visitor, the latest movie from Irish-American director Tom McCarthy, best known for his indy smash The Station Agent starring Javier Bardem.

In his latest work, which generated lots of buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival, a widowed and weary college professor (Richard Jenkins) drives to New York City for an academic conference, and finds an immigrant husband and wife squatting in his vacant apartment.

McCarthy said his own immigrant past led him to ponder the difficulties of life as an immigrant in America today.  “Our new Ellis Island is our detention centers,” McCarthy said.

A slew of movies with Irish themes and talent hit theaters in September and October, so if you missed them, you should make an effort to nab them now that they are coming out on DVD.

First there was the new George Clooney movie, Michael Clayton, in which the hunk Clooney plays a “fixer” for a powerful law firm. The movie makes a lot of Clayton’s Irish-American background.  His dad is a retired cop, and there is a strong tradition of civil service work in the Clayton clan. It’s even implied that Michael’s work for the elite is somehow a betrayal of his upbringing.

Also look for Terry George’s latest writing/directing work, a dead-child weepy starring Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connolly called Reservation Road.
Another dead child pops up on the mean Irish streets surrounding Boston in Ben Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, based on a novel by the master of Irish- American suspense Dennis Lehane.

Leave a Reply


More Articles

Peter Quinn’s Novel Redux

“Quinn has a way of making ordinary things, the ordinary or wise or inadequate thoughts of many persons in many...


Tom Deignan Interviews…

Tom interviews James Nesbitt about his new Irish crime drama Bloodlands. In this March 2021 interview, Tom and...


The Crisis in the
Catholic Church

Please join in the conversation about this important topic; we welcome your comments, thoughts, and...


Flannery O’Connor:
The Storied Life of
the Writer from Georgia

By Tom Deignan A new documentary about the short life and powerful work of Irish American literary giant Flannery...