If the high-impact Irish youth film Intermission were a rock band, it probably would have been signed in a bidding war during the grunge years, when labels were desperately searching for the next Nirvana. Its soft/hard formula seems exciting at first blush, but the effect is dulled over the course of an entire album.
Bouncing off the walls with misdirected adolescent energy, Intermission apes the tightly wound, interconnected storylines of ensemble pieces like Magnolia and Amores Perros, but it doesn't have anything pressing on its mind. Unable or unwilling to look beyond mere visceral effect, the film treats brutality with disturbing matter-of-factness, as if a smashed jaw were as commonplace a welcome as a peck on the cheek. But while it may be true that the Irish come from tough stock, the beating, scratching, shooting, and rock-hurling that punctuate the action would be too much even for hooligans to bear. It would be one thing if Intermission were a hard-nosed crime picture, but at heart it's a quirky romantic comedy, albeit one where violence strikes like a cosmic thunderbolt.
Only under these bizzaro circumstances could a man knowingly leave his amour with a sociopath and expect to be forgiven for it. When grocery clerk Cillian Murphy splits with live-in girlfriend Kelly Macdonald, it sets off a chain reaction that upends more than just their own lives. As Macdonald rebounds with a middle-aged banker who abandons his marriage after 14 years, Murphy's jealousy leads him to target the banker in a robbery scheme orchestrated by deranged petty crook Colin Farrell. Several other characters are affected directly and indirectly, most notably cop Colm Meaney, whose fists-first detective style draws the attention of a local TV documentarian. Charged by Farrell's nervy charisma and a propulsive early U2 song, the pre-credits sequence forcefully establishes the film's black humor and sadistic streak, but it also portends more jokey cruelty to come, and the effect sours quickly.
With Farrell cast as the sinister ringmaster, the other characters in Intermission walk around with anvils hanging over their heads, and first-time director John Crowley delights too much in cutting the rope. Like many stylish, whipcrack American and British indies made in the wake of Quentin Tarantino and Trainspotting, the film gets off on the same anything-can-happen storytelling brio, which at least keeps things lively. But without any resonant characters or ideas, it's all empty calories.