Jarv’s Birthday Series: Cal (1984)
This is a tough assignment for me. Honestly, because let’s face it, a film about the Irish “Troubles” is always going to piss me off to some extent, and the virulent rage that is induced by the romanticised depiction of those IRA cunts utterly precludes me from writing anything resembling a coherent review. So imagine my joy when Cal (release date 24th August in the USA) popped out. Secondly, it’s an incredibly feted film, winning awards, having a ludicrously high rating everywhere (91% fresh ono Rotten Tomatoes), and generally being regarded as a classic. Furthermore, Mrs. Jarv had already seen it, and greeted the announcement that we would be watching it with “You are going to sit through that, you? Honestly?” Well, I fucking did, and while it is nowhere near as slaveringly obnoxious towards the IRA as I thought it was going to be, it is also a fundamentally terrible, patronising, biased and vilely simplistic story that takes place during the troubles.
Cal is set in contemporary Belfast. John Lynch plays Cal, a drippy little whore of the lowest kind. He’s catholic and has been drawn onto the fringes of the IRA- he works for them as a getaway driver, but it’s alright- that doesn’t make him a villain, he’s just a mixed up kid that can’t deal with peer pressure (shit you not). Anyhoo, he drove the getaway car for a hit on a protestant policeman a year ago (this is important). Since then, he supports himself by doing a variety of odd jobs, including, and I’m not fucking joking here although I wish I was, picking potatoes. He’s on the receiving end of a well-deserved beating, and then his and his father’s house is firebombed. This forces our “hero” to go and squat in Marcella’s outhouse (Helen Mirren), before they grow close and the inevitable happens. Except the silly fucker seems to have forgotten (apart from when it is convenient for the story) that he drove the car for the hitman that shot Marcella’s husband. Apparently, though, our Cal is the only fucker with a driving license in the whole of Northern Ireland, because he’s then recruited to drive the car while those good “boys” go to administer a kneecapping. Luckily this all gets fucked up, and he confesses to Marcella before being lifted by the cops (who get in a few slaps, because that’s what cops do, particularly the dastardly RUC). Film thankfully ends.
This is an atrocious and ludicrously overrated film. To start with, it’s deathly boring. There are endless shots of drizzle, urban squalor, more drizzle, cups of tea, drizzle, the countryside, and just to break the fucking monotony, drizzle. Then, as if that isn’t boring enough, there are also endless shots of Cal looking at fucking drizzle with a slapped-arse expression on his face. The plot could quite easily have fit inside half an hour, the rest of this turd of a film is pure filler. While I’m on the subject of the photography, this film also looks and feels like shit. It genuinely looks like a made for British TV special, the likes of which the BBC turned out with tiresome monotony.
Secondly, the acting and writing of this turd are both ludicrously overrated. Mirren won an award in Cannes and for the life of me I can’t work out why. She certainly can’t do a Northern Irish accent. Secondly, Lynch was on debut, so ducks a lot of the blame, but his performance can be described in one word: sulky. He’s got ONE fucking facial expression, and that’s the one that looks like someone shat in his corn flakes. Even when boning Mirren, something that I would imagine would be a bit of a result for a scrote like him, he still looks as if someone’s shot his puppy. The writing in this is amazingly poor. The characterisation is lacklustre where it exists, and the garbage that comes out of IRA recruiter Crilly’s mouth (that’s completely unchallenged by the film) is borderline offensive. I’m not going to sully this place by repeating it, but it is the same hackneyed shit that you’d hear from NORAID fundraisers when they rattled their fucking tins “for the boys”. The level of justification about the kneecapping is infuriating and I was practically climbing the wall at it- the victim accidentally knocked someone down with a car, and the pudding is so over-egged that it’s unreal. Look, writers, the IRA were an organised crime network masquerading as terrorists, and they hand this shit out at the slightest provocation. There was NOTHING noble about them. Fuck’s sake.
There are two more points of note that made my blood boil while watching it. The first is that this contains practically every cliché about the Irish that I can think of: he doesn’t know what spaghetti is, picks potatoes, and so forth. Honestly, at one stage I was just praying for Warwick Davis to pop out in full Leprechaun regalia and plug the fucking lot of them while singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary”. This shit is so fucking insulting- it’s Northern Ireland, which last time I checked was in the first world , and it’s set in 1984. There’s absolutely no justification for painting the entire province as rural locals who between dishing out punishment beatings all have the gift of the gab and DIG FUCKING spuds to survive. Which they probably eat raw.
The final point is linked to this, and this is because the stereotyping is made worse by the soundtrack which was provided by humungous schnozzed Mark Knopfler (literally money for nothing in this case). Unsurprisingly for someone with the imaginative powers of Ehren Kruger, he’s turned in a score, for an Irish film, that is an aural cliche of sounds you expect to hear when Ireland is referenced. It’s one never-ending dirge of Celtic instruments and I swear at one point I thought I heard fucking pan pipes, but I may be wrong as I was busy slamming my head off the table to end the pain.
Overall, this is an insulting and boring sack of shit. It ducks the Orangutan of Doom for two reasons, firstly because I grew bored with trying to photoshop a balaclava and a load of semtex into the picture to make him the Provorangutan of Doom, but secondly because Helen Mirren unsurprisingly takes all her clothes off. However, seeing as she made a career during that period of taking her clothes off, there are far better examples out there. I give this obnoxious and heinously overrated peat bog’s worth of cow shit half a spud against a Belfast mural out of four. This is a dreadful film and can, frankly, fuck off.
What gets me, though, is that there are films out there that treat the Irish troubles with respect, and as the serious and complicated struggle that it is, and instead works that turn it into the background for a poorly-conceived and mind-numbingly boring faux-romance receive the accolades. The troubles don’t boil down to a “good v bad” situation, and both sides of the sectarian divide were essentially vermin, but you just try to tell the people of Warrington/ Brighton/ Omagh/ Guildford/ Birmingham and so forth that it’s clearly their fault because the IRA is stocked with “Good men”.
Until next time,
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf
- 1986 –Reform School Girls
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing
- 1988 – Married to the Mob
- 1989 – Millennium
- 1990 – Darkman
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery(TBC)
- 1993 – Hard Target
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers
- 1995 – Desperado
- 1996 – Freeway
- 1997 – Mimic
- 1998 – Blade
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle
- 2000 – Bring it On
- 2001 – Heartbreakers
- 2002 – Simone
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning
- 2005 – The Cave
- 2006 – Invincible
- 2007 – War
- 2008 – Death Race
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian