The latest film from director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview With The Vampire) is a striking, blacker-than-black comedy about a troubled Irish childhood. Adapted from Patrick McCabe's novel, The Butcher Boy concerns the child (Eamonn Owens) of an abusive, alcoholic father (Stephen Rea) and a suicidal mother (Aisling O'Sullivan). When tragedy strikes and his troubles heighten, Owens lays the blame on Fiona Shaw, the snooty mother of a classmate, against whom he conducts a campaign of terror that eventually turns violent. Set during the days leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisiswhen Ireland itself saw its fate tossed about by powers it couldn't controlthe film nicely balances a sympathetic treatment of its protagonist with an unflinching portrayal of his escalating madness. Owens does a commendable job portraying his pop-culture-obsessed character's dedication to a sense of irrational, childlke justice. Just as important, and despite the fact that there are few frames that don't center on Owens, The Butcher Boy captures an entire confusing time and place, offering an especially cutting look at the small town that all too quickly gives up on him. The material is unpleasant, to be sure, but it's expertly handled in a manner that outshines other films dealing with similar topics. Jordan captures all the confusion of childhood, and the terrors of a childhood gone wrong, without soft-pedaling or offering prefabricated moral lessons. In the process, he creates an unforgettable film.