Sunday, August 12, 2007
Dónal MacIntyre first came to prominence a few years back with his 'MacIntyre Undercover' series in which he entrapped a number of dodgy characters - Nigerian scammers, football hooligans, slobbering statutary rapists at the Élite model agency - with his undercover camera and came away with the shocking truth that everyone already knew. Like the more serious investigative reporter Sacha Baron Cohen, MacIntyre has been forced, by his now greater renown to confront dodgy characters in the flesh. His cinema debut A Very British Gangster does so, with the Manchester Mr Big, Dominic Noonan, and it is difficult to tell who is having more fun onscreen: Noonan having his ego massaged by big screen stardom or MacIntyre who gets to hang out with some very tough guys.
David Thomson once said that the problem with Martin Scorsese was that he was a sickly kid that worshipped hard men; MacIntyre is another sickly kid and his veneration for Noonan verges on the fetishistic. You might forgive him the exposure he gives Noonan and his band of thugs if it were at least done with any panache or in any genuine spirit of inquiry. But this is Dónal MacIntyre, and working for Channel 5 to boot; MacIntyre is like a cross between Alan Partridge and Roger Cook, with the emphasis more on the former. In fact you expect Noonan to explode at some point just like in that episode of 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' where Partridge's gangster guest responds to Alan's innuendo with a vicious 'do you want to get involved? Because I'll get you involved!' But Noonan is generally calm and it is not as if MacIntyre probes him too harshly. There's one unintentionally amusing scene where Dónal lectures Noonan in an avuncular manner, asking him 'do you not think there has been enough killing?' MacIntyre's breathless voiceover is both inane and irritating - he tells us that the people in Noonan's north-west Manchester fief go to him rather than the police to sort out their social problems, and you wonder who he imagines he is enlightening with this information. He also points out that Noonan is, surprisingly, a practising Catholic, despite his penchant for murder and thuggery. Perhaps Dónal MacIntyre could be introduced to the Godfather films and countless other mob movies for evidence of similar anomalies. Neither does MacIntyre find Noonan's combination of a gay sexual orientation and Catholicism strange but I suppose that would entail too many ideas in the head at one time for the spectacularly moronic director.
Giving thugs like Noonan and his ilk publicity like this is, of course dubious, though that is not to say that one couldn't make a good film with the material. There are some good moments in the film provided by the young goons that follow Noonan around and who readily dispense their homespun amorality (one teenager says that he he knows nothing better than the rush you get from relieving people of their property), but MacIntyre's shambolic sense of observation squanders most of the opportunities. And of course, there is also MacIntyre's morally questionable tactic of putting himself centre-stage, which he does at one point when Noonan is briefly arrested, making phone calls and ostentatiously convening with the gang with all the gusto of a bunch of lads on a stag weekend arguing over what restaurant to eat in. MacIntyre is also gifted with plenty of incident, Noonan's older brother Desmond - arguably a bigger thug - is stabbed to death during filming and Noonan himself goes down for unlawful possession of firearms. And still the film is dull and still MacIntyre grates like a sandpaper foreskin.
But the film has had its admirers; in France the reviews have been inexplicably positive and it won the top prize at the Cognac Festival des Policiers (for crime films) but then the French have a hankering for voyeuristic studies of distant milieux - they love Scorsese, even his more risible recent films. Many French critics were not so enthusiastic about Jacques Audiard's De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté, in which Romain Duris played a viciously racist and xenophobic enforcer. Les Inrockuptiples called it a 'stinking' film that sought to propagate beauf chic, which is admissible only if one admits also that the films of Scorsese, Coppola and Brian de Palma, which the French love, are equally irresponsible. As for Dónal MacIntyre, hanging out with the rough diamond chavs of the Manchester underworld hasn't cost him all refinement; according to Wikipedia, he has named his recently-born daughter Tiger Willow. This man is priceless, as they say in Dublin.