Butcher Boy cover

STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $19.98
RUNNING TIME: 111 Minutes
Feature Commentary w/ Neil Jordan
Deleted scenes

The Pitch

"It’s Stand by Me meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as filtered through James Joyce’s fecking imagination!"

The Humans

Eamonn Owens, Stephen Rea, Fiona Shaw, Alan Boyle.

The Nutshell

Meet Francie Brady (Owens), but try not to do it in a dark alley. He’s the terror of his town, and he hasn’t even hit puberty yet. Along with his friend Joe (Boyle), Francie finds fun where he can, be it playing at cowboys and Indians, stealing comics from the class nerd, or taking a dump in said nerd’s living room. As his drunken father (Rea) and suicidal mother slide out of his life, Francie’s escapades become more dangerous and more vital, eventually landing him in a Catholic boarding school and setting him on a road toward the Land of Electro-Convulsive Therapy.

This is you, while watching 11 Colonels ATTACK!

The Lowdown

Director and co-writer Neil Jordan has a respectable history of creating characters that are at once believable and fantastic. He doesn’t film normal people; rather, he takes extraordinary people and forces them to adapt to ordinary situations. The Crying Game is a fine example of his favored mode, filmmaking just on the cusp of reality. To an extent, he offered the same with Interview with the Vampire. With The Butcher Boy he passes by those stories of outcasts and survivalists for a concern with that most hated of childhood adversaries: the bully.

Francie Brady is like what Oliver Twist might have been had he shanked the Artful Dodger on their first meeting. He’s got the mentality of a playground bully, but he’s not in it for the lunch money; he’s the youthful advent of the nonconformist, the (eventual) orphan whose parents left him with a spirit of anarchy in place of good discipline. It’s a role that’s plenty common in fiction, and it works well here, with Jordan counting on the audience’s sympathy for an archetype that might legitimately claim: "No one understands me," even if it would rather kick you in the nads than do so.

Now write it a hundred times, and if you’re not done before dawn, I’ll cut your balls off.

Though the arc of the plot doesn’t take Francie to anywhere that can’t be reasonably expected after a dozen or so minutes with the character, the portrayal of the kid is plenty enough to keep your interest. Young Eamonn Owens turned in a frenetic and strangely-nuanced performance. The script calls for numerous changes of context to define the roughly consistent actions that Francie undertakes, but Owens seems to have an instinctive understanding of the nuances required for each, tinting his lines with a spectrum deliberately (and wisely) narrow.

For all the youthful gravitas that Owens brings to the character, Francie Brady takes a significant portion of definition from the narrator’s voice-over. The narrator is Francie as an older gentleman, recalling his childhood with vivid, profane language and occasional ruptures of the fourth wall. This voice of god, as it were, puts even the worst of Francie’s many travails into a blackly comic cast, and the devilish result serves to endear the character even further to the audience.

A little from column A, a little from column B.

In your typical coming-of-age story, the protagonist suffers through some slings and arrows, and emerges a better person for it all. In The Butcher Boy, a decidedly morbid third act finds Francie overshooting that whole "growing as an individual" phase and proceeding right on to a notoriety all his own, and the attending consequences. Jordan has teased a delicate moral out of the glorious mess that Francie makes of his own life, and it’s one that leaves a taste of bitter herbs.

You’ve encountered the sensations that the denouement brings you before, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Requiem for a Dream (though Butcher Boy predates it), among others, but Jordan can well be admired for making an audience dig them all over again with a brand new, entrancing character. This is Francie’s story, and no one else’s.

"Would you like some Irish cream, little boy?"

The Package

There’s a damn fine commentary track by Neil Jordan hisself, which covers territory from the movie’s source material (a novel by Patrick McCabe, who also served as co-writer) to its screen talent, to Jordan‘s own memories of childhood. Jordan has an easy manner to his conversation, and, unlike some directors I could mention doesn’t sound as if he’s in the recording booth at gunpoint.

The disc also features a couple further character-development scenes that are unnecessary but welcome, and a theatrical trailer.

7.6 out of 10