Spirited Irish films to complement a Guinness

By Danny Marchant

Editor’s note: This is part of the Daily Collegian’s St. Patrick’s Day special issue.

Saint Patrick may be best known for ridding Ireland of snakes, but what few people know about him is how much of a film buff he was. So, this St. Patrick’s Day, why not honor his memory by treating yourself to an Irish movie marathon? There are, after all, other Irish movies besides “The Boondock Saints.” Here are just seven, all of which will leave you craving a pint of the black stuff.

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Michael Collins

This biopic of modern Ireland’s “founding father” is the perfect place to start. Directed by Neil Jordan, the film follows the life of Collins, the revolutionary who freed Ireland from British rule only to be assassinated by his own people during the Irish Civil War. The film is gorgeously shot, with a rousing score and a charismatic performance from Liam Neeson in the title role. It’s a refreshing biopic, in that it avoids painting its subject as a saint. The only flaw is a miscast Julia Roberts and her awful Irish accent. A film guaranteed to make any old Irish relatives cry.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Ken Loach’s film deals with the same time period as that of the film “Michael Collins,” but from the perspective of Collins’ foot soldiers rather than Collins himself. It’s a small, independent film but explores the complicated politics that dominated Ireland during the 1920s. It stars Cillian Murphy (“28 Days Later”) and Padraic Delaney as two brothers who find themselves on opposite sides during the civil war. All the romance of revolution is replaced by the cold hard reality of politics.

In the Name of the Father

Another biopic, Jim Sheridan’s film is the story of Gerry Conlon, a man wrongly convicted of a terrorist bombing and sentenced to prison for almost 20 years. Set in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, the film is an accurate depiction of a time the Irish have called “The Troubles.” Daniel Day-Lewis plays Conlon and by Day-Lewis standards it’s an understated performance. It also features the late, great Pete Postlethwaite as Gerry’s father, imprisoned for the same crime. Postlethwaite is so good, in fact, that he steals the movie from Day-Lewis. And for those U2 fans out there, the film’s title song is performed by Bono.

Once

If an endless marathon of films about Ireland’s violent and troubled past aren’t your cup of tea, then fear not. “Once,” a hybrid of romantic comedy, drama and movie musical, is about two young people living in Dublin, Ireland, who fall in love. The film’s song, “Falling Slowly” won an Oscar and deservedly so. “Once” is not sentimental or sappy, and in typical Irish fashion, not entirely happy. But it’s a little-seen film that should have a larger audience. If the closing scene doesn’t move you then you may not be human.

The Commitments

Another musical, “The Commitments,” is about a bunch of unemployed people coming together to form a soul band. Yes, you read that right: An Irish soul band. The band, played by actual musicians rather than actors, turns out to be an excellent soul band. But like most movies about musicians, it all falls apart as individual egos get in the way. The film has a fantastic soundtrack, the highlight of which is a cover of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.”

In Bruges

The genre of dark comedy does not even begin to describe the tone of “In Bruges.” Written and directed by the playwright Martin McDonagh, the film is about two hitmen, Ray and Ken, played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who are sent to the tiny Belgian town of Bruges after a botched job by their foul-mouthed mob boss (Ralph Fiennes, nose and all). It’s twisted, existential, violent, politically incorrect, very funny and takes place mostly in and around pubs. In other words, it’s Irish.

The Guard

This is a good film to watch along with “In Bruges.” It’s also the most recent film on the list, having been released last fall. Brendan Gleeson (him again) plays an Irish cop and Don Cheadle works as an FBI agent. Together, they try to bust a drug ring. Any Irish movie marathon that doesn’t include Gleeson can’t really be called Irish. If you’ve never understood the phrase “He has the map of Ireland on his face,” one look at Brendan Gleeson will clarify it. He’s a big man with a thick brogue and looks like someone’s caricature of an Irishman. Although Gleeson is in three movies on this list, “The Guard” is where he truly shines.

Hopefully, there’s something here for everyone, whether you delight in epic tales of rebellion or simple love stories. So put on your best sweater and pour yourself a pint of Guinness and sit back and enjoy your trip through Irish cinema.

Danny Marchant can be reached at [email protected]