Friday, December 14, 2007

Adam and Paul

2004, Ireland, directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Set over the course of one twenty-four hour period, Lenny Abrahamson's film follows two drug-addled Dubliners on their increasingly desperate attempts to gather enough money to score another hit. Adam and Paul - invariably referred to as one undifferentiated person, Adamandpaul, by everyone else - owe much to Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon, trying desperately to fill the hours that seem to stretch endlessly before them (Abrahamson's only prior film, the 1991 short Three Joes, similarly gave an absurdist spin to an apparently ordinary setting).

The film is not simply a re-working of Waiting for Godot, however, but rather a conscious counter-narrative to the prevailing mythologies of the Celtic Tiger, in which Abrahamson is determined to illustrate the realities of life for those left further behind by the rising tide of prosperity (themes given more recent expression in his 2007 television series, Prosperity, scripted by Adam and Paul's screenwriter and - taller - co-lead Mark O'Halloran). Ireland's economic boom is experienced exclusively as something outside the two men's sphere of existence, from which they are sometimes literally excluded; it's a story that inhabits the same universe as some of the finest of Damian Dempsey's songs, providing a trenchant alternative perspective on modern Irish life.

Though it is often extremely funny, in an utterly bone-dry way, the film is careful to avoid any hint of sentimentality. It acknowledges, often quite movingly, Adam and Paul's remaining shreds of humanity but never looks for simple emotional exits. It doesn't flinch, either, from the manner in which they're apt to turn on each other or on those few people more vulnerable than they. Though O'Halloran provides able support, Tom Murphy's performance as the second of the titular pair steals most of the attention: his work is a brilliant balance of deadpan humour, desperation, and a terrible, gnawing sadness. It's one of the finest film performances by an Irish actor in recent years; sadly, Murphy, best known as a stage actor, died in late 2007, a few months shy of his 40th birthday.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States