12 February 2011
I can't decide if I really like this one as much as the last John Ford film I watched. Both spend a lot of act two in weird narrative dead-ends, and although it didn't bother me as much here as in Shark Island I wasn't as in love with this story as with the last. It felt a little too much like a cheap, drunk, Irish Crime & Punishment with lesser stakes -- though more politicized: rather than committing murder our anti-hero merely betrays a compatriot instead. Plus, instead of being motivated by an existentialist ideal taken to absurd extremes, our drunk buffoon is motivated by an idiot's dream of coming to America. I'm sure there are layers and ramifications to this, but in the end it all comes down to everybody (his girlfriend, the leader of their group, and even the victim's mother) forgiving him in the face of the repeated chorus "[he] didn't know what [he] was doing."
What I did like about it is the seedy nightlife of a mean Irish city and the out of control binge Gypo goes on, careening like a pinball from one dangerous situation to another and leaving a wake of chaos and greed and suspicion. The more untethered he becomes in his wanderings, the more pleasurable I found the story actually, but the tailing operatives tallying up his cashflow felt a little easy -- like a conspiracy of invisible accountants. The big tribunal sequence was nice, though, and it was interesting to watch our hero so willfully and brazenly throw an innocent man under the bus. Gypo was kicked out of the organization some time earlier and only reinstated on the stipulation he find and eliminate the informer (for a moment I was hoping for a 1930s John Ford Gangs of New York meets A Scanner Darkly thriller, but alas). My thought is, maybe someone with the poor judgment and low impulse control that Gypo Nolan has shouldn't be a) let into your little club, b) trusted with any kind of secrets at all.
Anyway, it was an all right film, but not my favorite John Ford. It held together well and set up a great and wonderful messy little world... just didn't grip me or keep me as engaged as The Prisoner of Shark Island managed to.