Plot: What’s it about?
Francie Brady (Eammon Owens) is just a child, but his life is troubled and he finds himself becoming more and more unstable as time passes. His mother was suicidal and institutionalized, leaving him to be raised by his father, a severe alcoholic. His home life is dysfunctional at best, abusive and violent at worst. He is unable to adjust to social life as he needs to, so he becomes isolated and alienated, giving him nowhere to let his guard down. At home he faces abuse and violence, then in the outside world, he is shunned and branded an outcast, so he is left to be on his own. All of this eventually leads to him dabbling in criminal affairs, stealing apples and getting caught in the process. His only respite in life, his lone friend, is left behind when Francie is sent off to a boys’ home to be turned back to the right path. There he runs into even more dysfunction, as his priest enjoys dressing him a girl and then he is released to return to the world, as a butcher. As he butchers the meat, he dreams of violent escapades in which his foes meet gruesome demises. These fantasies increase in intensity as time passes and when his father dies, Francie leaves him be, until the authorities investigate and discover the corpse. As if that wasn’t enough, his only friend in the world has turned his back on him, leaving Francie with nothing to lean on. As he faces a world with only darkness in front of him, what will become of Francie and his violent daydreams?
I hadn’t heard much about The Butcher Boy, but I did remember a review that compared the film to A Clockwork Orange, so I finally saw the film to see how accurate the comparison was. I can see why the comparison was made, both films deal with how violence is instilled in youth, but the two films share little else in common. In tone, The Butcher Boy is much lighter, perhaps even too light at times, considering the weight of the content. You don’t expect cheerful presence in a movie with so much violence and abuse, but that is often the case here. I found the tone to be well handled, but it also kept me at a distance from the material, so I never felt immersed in what happens. I guess I just felt a little jarred out of the experience at times, but the light tone doesn’t hold back the movie all that much. Neil Jordan directs with skill as usual, using a realistic approach sprinkled with surreal touches, so this isn’t the stark, realistic movie I expected. Even so, the movie works well enough and Jordan’s off kilter technique offers a unique insight, even if one that misses the mark here and there. The casting is solid, with a wonderful performance from young Eammon Owens, not to mention turns from Stephen Rea, Fiona Shaw, and yes, Sinead O’Conner as The Virgin Mary. Wow. The Butcher Boy isn’t a total hit, but it is solid, so I can recommend it as a rental.
Video: How does it look?
The Butcher Boy is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer here is more than solid, but won’t dazzle the eyes by any means. The image has a good level of detail, with only a few scenes on the soft side, so the visuals are never held back in this treatment. The colors here are often muted, but that’s intentional and when needed, the hues take on a brighter, bolder presence. This movie has a lot of dark scenes, so its good news that the contrast looks good, to be sure. The black levels come off as smooth and well balanced, so murkiness is never a factor here. So while not impeccable, this transfer looks good and the movie is well treated, which is what matters.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is a dialogue driven film in all respects, so don’t expect a powerful mix from the included 5.1 surround option. I wasn’t impressed by this audio track, but it more than gets this film’s material across well. The vocals sound crisp and clear, with no distortion or harshness to contend with at all. This is good, since the dialogue accounts for the vast majority of the audio presence. The music and sound effects serve as mere background noise and come as such here, which is how it should be. You might not be blown away by this one, but it sounds just as it should in the end. This disc also includes English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Neil Jordan shares his director’s perspective in an audio commentary track and as expected, his session is worthwhile. Jordan talks about the entire production, from concept to completion, so a lot of ground is covered. At the same time, the track is never dull or bogged down, he keeps the session informative and brisk. This disc also includes some deleted scenes, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.