The film is a heavily fictionalised account of the life of Dublin gangster Martin Cahill – or "Michael Lynch". The film copies Cahill's lifestyle with Michael living with his wife and her sister and by being a supposedly charismatic gang leader. This is where the film falls down. Spacey's accent and handle on the character are faultless but the script doesn't get out of third gear until about 60 minutes in – the film's third act, in effect. And by then, we've lost all will to care for Lynch, or any of the characters.
In John Boorman's The General, Brendan Gleeson gave a starmaking performance as Martin Cahill in the title role, breathing fire through the bones of the character and leaving us in no uncertain terms as to why people chose to follow him. In the role of Michael Lynch, we find Kevin Spacey undecided about what to do with Gerard Stembridge's muddled script and giving us the public persona of Kevin Spacey. This would be fine if we were watching "The Life And Times Of Kevin Spacey", but doesn't work when we need to believe in him as a Dublin gangster, let alone one who is capable of pulling off Ireland's biggest art theft.
Spacey can't make you think of anyone other than Kevin Spacey. If Spacey had been a bit more generous, David Hayman's excellent second-in-command and Peter Mullan's henchman would have more screen time. If director Thaddeus O'Sullivan had really wanted to make an interesting film about Martin Cahill, he should have told the story from their perspective, to see beyond the clichés.
Cahill's life was never going to make an entertaining caper-style thriller. It's too full of contradictions and complexities to be condensed and blended into a Hollywood-style narrative. The scene where Lynch frightens his robbery trial judge into submission by planting a bomb in his daughter's car isn't as shocking as the film needs it to be, because we've been told it's going to happen. Frustratingly, there are several glimpses of what might have been. The art heist itself is a skilfully executed gem, as are the scenes between Spacey and Linda Fiorentino as his wife. But there are not enough of these moments to save the film. By the time the film suddenly realises it's wanted to be a thriller all along, it's left it too late to convince us it has any serious intent in its mind at all.
What lets the film down in particular is one stunningly unconvincing scene on a bridge over the River Liffey, where Lynch and his gang discuss ways of getting rid of the stolen painting in full view of the Gardai! If O'Sullivan and Stembridge intended this as some kind of warped flight of fantasy, to give the film some extra depth, they have made serious errors of judgement. These sequences look embarrassingly out of place and unbalance the film as a whole. Perhaps if there had been more of them, they would have fitted in better, but like this, they make the film look like a series of loosely connected, wish-we-could-be-funny, wish-we-could-be-thrilling mini-films.
The first thirty minutes play as a short film in their own right, before the film decides to bring in "IRA" characters who make the ones in Patriot Games look frighteningly realistic. With Spacey being such a showboat and Stembridge and O'Sullivan so keen to serve up Oirish clichés and hollow truisms, in the end, there's really no saving "Ordinary Decent Criminal". The fact that it's such a mess, with its many interesting bits and pieces diluted and faded by the accompanying clichés makes you wonder why no-one thought to question the script, least of all, O'Sullivan and Stembridge.
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