Saturday, December 16, 2006

Waking Ned

1998, UK/France/US, directed by Kirk Jones

Rating: ***

A thick slice of Blarney, Waking Ned manages to transcend a welter of clichés with some charming performances, flashes of morbid wit, and beautiful cinematography. The film centers on the fictional village of Tullymore, where one of the residents has won the Lotto (the Irish national lottery); after some time, it becomes obvious that the winner is the recently deceased Ned Devine, and two of the villagers hatch a plan to claim the winnings in his stead. The opening 30 minutes are quite slow-moving, especially given the lighthearted genre trappings, but things warm up considerably when the deception begins; the two lead characters don't, however, have the mettle to be cute hoors and they re-evaluate their plan mid-way through (in ways that underline their very specific sense of community, though it's hard to reconcile the plan with the realities of modern Ireland). Director Kirk Jones has a good eye for both landscape and village life (even if that vision is somewhat outdated): the film, shot on the Isle of Man rather than in Ireland, verges on the painterly at times, which is a useful distraction from a flat romantic sub-plot. Ian Bannen and, especially, David Kelly are both excellent in rare lead roles, usefully mixing comedy and a touch of pathos, while the wake of the title is surprisingly affecting (and intermingled, Godfather-style, with other happenings, including one incident of the blackest comedy).

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