DVD Review HTF Review: Intermission

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Oct 7, 2004.

  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Jul 6, 2003
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    Studio: MGM
    Year: 2003
    Rated: R
    Running Time: 106 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Subtitles: English and Spanish
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1

    Release Date:
    October 19th, 2004

    The Irish film Intermission, written by Mark O’Rowe and directed by John Crowley, is a bold attempt to blend dark humor and romance, via a gaggle of diverse characters whose lives cross paths over the course of the narrative. Strangely, this amalgamation of violence and love works well, making the film somewhat loveable in spite of its downright despicable (in most cases) and extremely profane characters.

    The film opens with a small-time hood named Lehiff (Colin Farrell) talking up a female cashier. At this point, we know neither character, and it seems as though Lehiff is really trying to cozy up to the girl, but without warning or provocation he suddenly smacks her square in the mouth, so he can steal the money in her till. After this startling opening scene, which establishes the uncomfortable tone that permeates the rest of the film, it is clear that we are about to be taken on a strange journey with a group of truly unusual souls.

    Interestingly, it is Lehiff’s variety of violent, criminal schemes that somehow converges each of the many characters in Intermission. Among the principal characters is John (Cillian Murphy), a supermarket employee who is upset that his ex-girlfriend, the gorgeous Deirdre (Kelly MacDonald), has decided to act on his suggestion that they test the strength of their relationship by seeing other people. Indeed, shortly after the film begins, we learn that Deirdre has already shacked up with an older, more successful (and also married) man named Sam (Michael McElhatton).

    John’s buddy, Oscar (David Wilmot), who works with him at the market, is also looking for love. During his search, Oscar ends up hooking up with an older woman in a pub, and in a strange twist of fate, it just happens to be Sam’s estranged wife Noeleen (Deidre O’Kane). Talk about coincidence! Oscar is also a very honest friend, the kind we all need, even though it can be difficult to hear their observations in a time of crisis. To that end, Oscar is quite unsympathetic to John, as he believes his friend foolishly ruined his relationship with Deirdre for no good reason.

    Another of the long list of characters, most of which are downright contemptible, is Oscar and John’s tyrannical supervisor, Mr. Henderson (Owen Roe), who spouts off a myriad of different clichés “as they say in the States”, and generally gets a kick out of making their lives miserable. Less contemptible, but no less weird, is Deirdre’s sister Sally (Shirley Henderson), who has a rather interesting facial feature. The timid, antisocial Sally is also less than trusting of men, and for good reason, since the last man she was with bound her, robbed her, and then defecated on her for good measure.

    As awful as all these people sound, perhaps the most unsavory and unpleasant character is Detective Jerry Lynch (Colm Meaney), a rough-and-tumble lawman that deals with criminals in the only way he thinks they will understand. Usually, this involves harassment of suspects, and more often than not, taunting them into engaging in impromptu bare-knuckle boxing matches with him. Jerry’s seedy exploits are chronicled by an ambitious reporter named Ben (Tom O’Sullivan), who hopes to distinguish himself by creating an edgy documentary that follows Jerry through the streets of Dublin as he carries out his pursuit of wrongdoers.

    The storyline follows each of these characters along, and eventually brings their loosely related storylines together through a badly executed extortion scheme where Lehiff holds Deidre hostage, and Sam is asked to obtain a large sum of money from his bank by John and another man.

    Just prior to this, the “other man”, a bus driver named Mick (Brian O'Byrne) that lost his job when a bratty kid caused the bus to overturn by firing a rock through his windshield, joins the film’s strange menagerie of characters. Upset at being wrongfully terminated, Mick becomes the third member of the profiteering/revenge scheme that is aimed at Sam. However, as I alluded to above, the robbery goes horribly wrong, which leads to several interesting plot twists that wrap Intermission up.

    Now as I will soon elaborate on further, Mark O’Rowe’s story appealed to me, but some of the stylistic choices made for Intermission, particularly the nausea-inducing camera and washed out color palette make it a tough film to watch at times. Perhaps John Crowley intended to create a grim, heavy atmosphere for his company of rugged, unpleasant characters, or perhaps he wanted paint a very clear portrait of the anger, resentment, and volatility that can be experienced by those in search of love and happiness. Whatever the case may be, I think the story was sufficiently equipped to handle these tasks, and that Crowley’s (I presume they were his) aesthetic choices actually detract from the final product.

    This is too bad, because under its gritty, unpleasant exterior, Intermission has a lot to say about love, especially how it must not be taken for granted by those caught in its midst. To that end, Mark O’Rowe tosses a variety of interesting observations on love, life, and relationships into the screenplay, and most of the characters’ dialogue is sharp and witty. Aside from the aforementioned stylistic choices I took issue with, John Crowley also does a good job of interweaving the characters’ storylines, and really gets a lot out of his cast.

    Speaking of the cast, Intermission features some dynamite performances, especially that of Colin Farrell, whose turn as Lehiff is bursting with energy, charisma, and volatility. The rest of the actors also manage to do a commendable job of creating characters that seem to be part of the world we actually live in, not the more “perfect” characters that inhabit most films with an element of romance in them. I found this refreshing, as the characters engaged in relationships do some really awful things to each other and behave in a selfish ways – sadly, just like people tend to do in real life relationships.

    I will close by saying this: Intermission is one hell of an unusual romantic comedy (albeit a very dark and violent one). The characters are really not that endearing, but the script is full of wit, and the film really grabs hold viewers’ attention right from the opening scene. If you can manage to get past the camerawork, perhaps Intermission will hold your attention as well, and you too will discover why this film took home four IFTA® Awards (Ireland’s equivalent of the Oscar®), including Best Irish Picture.

    By the way, check out the closing credits, over which Colin Farrell showcases his surprisingly solid vocal chops on the punk-infused rendition of “I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)”, written by Sonny Curtis of The Crickets.

    While Intermission’s shaky DV camera-work, excessive use of close-ups, and washed out colors make it a film that is somewhat tough on the eyes, I think MGM deserves some credit for an anamorphic widescreen presentation (1.85:1) of the film that remains faithful to the source material. First of all, as it relates to the “flat” coloration, since it looks like a stylistic choice, I am glad that the director’s intent was preserved, and that Intermission was not tweaked to make it look brighter and more colorful than it should be. Better still, the colors in the film, even deep reds, are displayed without any objectionable “bleeding” or chroma noise.

    Another nice thing was the absence of visible traces of nasty digital artifacts that can result from the compression process, and from my normal viewing area (2.5 screen widths away) I also noticed no overt signs of edge enhancement. Further, black level is not quite spectacular, but there is still a fair amount of detail in darker sequences, and low-level noise never seems to be an issue.

    In terms of overall detail, the image was a touch inconsistent, vacillating between quite sharp (you can easily see Sally’s mustache in most shots) and slightly soft (at 25, 29, and 58 minutes in). Generally though, the image is nicely detailed, especially in the abundance of close-ups, and the print is very clean, with only a small amount of grain and specks visible. Thus, this is a fine visual presentation of the source material overall, mainly hindered by John Crowley’s stylistic choices, which have nothing to do with the transfer.

    For Intermission, MGM has stirred up a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack that presents the source material in a suitable (but unspectacular) way. To begin with, dialogue is crisply emitted into the listening space, although your ability to determine what the characters are saying will probably depend on your ability to decipher their Irish accents.

    The soundstage also reveals its moderate level of spaciousness when it is called upon to do other things than reproduce dialogue. With that being said, music and effects exhibit satisfying fidelity and a nice, even frequency response. Speaking of sound effects and music, the .1 channel is put to good, though somewhat infrequent, use here, adding a significant amount of punch to gunshots and car crashes. In addition, the sub enhances the music used in the film, including some by a little band called U2. Similarly, although they are not terribly active, the rear channels are also employed from time to time, particularly to add some ambience to the geriatric nightclub in Chapter 10, or to fill in the sound field when music is playing.

    All in all, the Dolby Digital soundtrack for Intermission proves to be capable, and should leave most listeners with very little to complain about.


    Deleted Scenes
    There are only two brief deleted scenes included, both featuring John and Oscar. In the first, they are choreographing a fight in a storeroom, and in the second, their ridiculous boss, Mr. Henderson, is chastising them.

    Theatrical Trailer
    The theatrical trailer for Intermission is included.

    Promotional Materials
    The disc kicks off with trailers for Code 46 and Coffee and Cigarettes. Accessible from the Special Features menu are also trailers for Bubba Ho-Tep, Saved!, Unspeakable, WalkingTall, Touching the Void, and Coffee and Cigarettes.

    In addition, the cover art for Hart’s War, The Claim, Henry V, The Ususal Suspects, and 24 Hour Party People is available.


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    Intermission is an unpredictable and surprisingly charming dark comedy/love story that spins the yarn of a group of working-class Irish that are drawn together through the pursuit of love and happiness. Strangely, although almost every character in this film is a vile, immoral human being, the story sticks with you. This is due in large part to the fact that the performers are uniformly stellar, and do a great job of bringing Mark O’Rowe’s clever screenplay to life.

    In terms of presentation, MGM’s transfer accurately depicts the shaky, washed out visuals, and Intermission’s soundtrack brings the sometimes unintelligible speech, the film’s sound effects, and the score to life in a commendable way. As far as extras are concerned, however, the disc is disappointing, featuring only two very brief deleted scenes and the film’s trailer. That being the case, this interesting look at love, and decent A/V treatment, help this title sneak onto my “recommended” list. I only wish it had some added-value materials that further enriched the experience.

    Stay tuned…
  2. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?

    Dec 1, 1999
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    Disney World and Universal Florida
    Real Name:
    Tony D.
    i had this last week but didnt have time to watch it.

    the review has me interested in taking it back out again before i'd have to return it monday night.
    (blockbuster employee perk)

    thanks for the review.
  3. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

    Jun 19, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Nice review.

    I enjoyed this film and think it's definitely worth a rental (at least).

    While it's obvious where it's influences come from, it doesn't feel like a hack-job.

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