The Butcher Boy Retro Talk; Grade: B+
Updated: Apr 27
Welcome to another edition of Retro Talk. Today’s film discussion, we’ll be talking about the 1998 Dark Comedy film The Butcher Boy, adapted from a novel written by Patrick McCabe and made by from a Oscar winning writer Neil Jordan. Quick known fact about The Butcher Boy: It was placed as a Top 10 film on the National Board of Review Awards. What drawn my attention to this less known indie film was the fact Ari Aster (Director of Hereditary, Midsommar) recommended it one day on Twitter. Ari Aster did recommended Transit which is one of my favorite films of 2019, so I took his word for it and had it on my watchlist for sometime. First off hats off to whomever design this bad ass poster, I mean that is exactly what this film about: A Ticking Time Bomb. I feel The Butcher Boy meant a lot to Neil Jordan for one reason alone: It’s heavy on his roots. Jordan was born in Sligo, Ireland in the year of 1950, this film is set in the 1960’s in Ireland so you atomically can recognize the connection the film maker has within this story. Ironic enough the film is centered around a young child Francie Brady (Eamonn Owens), which is ironic because certainly Jordan was roughly the same age as Francie in the years this film took place in.
The story is about a dysfunctional young lad named Francie Brady, whom lives with his mother whom has bipolar disorder and has suicide tendencies, and his father whom is a ranging alcoholic. Life for Francie never feels sane, except his lone blood brother Joe (Alan Boyle) whom is with him thick and thin till the end... As he once claimed early on, before Francie was put away for bad behavior. For some reason Francie terrorizes a local high class woman Mrs. Nugent (Fiona Shaw) and her son Philip (Andrew Fullerton). The reasoning behind Francie’s consistent torture on this mother and child remains questionable, but it could be due to the fact the Nugents’ have a healthy mother/son relationship or it could be the fact he doesn’t enjoy being called a PIG. Witness Francie’s hectic chaotic journey, that’ll make you feel vulnerable yet disgusted by his actions.
When I think of Francie, I think of my past childhood friend I had back in elementary school named Reese. Reese could be a sweet kid once you get to know him, like Francie’s rare sweet moments with his mother and his best friend Joe. But one thing Reese did have was a bad reputation amongst others, like Francie does with just about everyone in this town. Reese in no way did the extreme foul things like Francie does, I mean Francie is NUTS. But both share similarity of having a bad temper, having a potty mouth, violent tendencies. Like Joe we start to feel uncomfortable with the behavior of our dear friend, that’s why we decided to move on, due to the fact it felt unsafe to be around someone of that nature. Every now and then I feel bad I stopped being Reeses friend, because like Francie... Both share a similarity, of not having a stable life. I won’t get into personal details of my past friend... But as time goes by, I understand why he valued my friendship, as much as Francie values his friendship with Joe. I was literally the rare few that he had, while in reality he felt completely alone with nobody to hold. I was surprised a film like this could be as relatable as my childhood believe it or not. I hope Reese is doing well, wherever he is, last I heard was a decade ago and he was doing much better.
The Butcher Boy is a very intriguing yet weird character study of Francie Brady. The tone is more upbeat, than it is down and sorrow. It’s like watching a young innocent child for the most part, develop into becoming a complete psychopath. It has it’s moments of a well played disturbing score in a few scenes, but for the most part the music is much more happy and joyful... Especially in the ending, which was strange seeing what escalated in the end. It could be the Score is based off what type of mood Francie is currently. Because in the ending he still thinks it’s an adventurous game, as he causes even more chaos than he just had done several minutes ago. Some of the weird parts of the film, that can’t be understand can also be explored deeper. Like how Francie’s mother was baking all those cakes, even though it’s a small gathering for her brother. To me it can shown as a way, how people handle depression. People with depression often over do nice gestures, as a way of receiving some sort of happiness. Even though his mother made more cakes and pastries than one would have, she did it out of love because that’s what her brother likes and that is what makes him happy... So she does all she can to make her brother the happiest man possible.
As far as the script of The Butcher Boy, though the dialogue at times it’s hard to understand due the strong Irish accents, it’s still a well crafted story that you really can’t take your eyes off of. The journey behind this psychopath was charming, yet emotional, and yet frightening. I think what makes the audience feel much sympathy for the character till the end, is the way he was brought up. I mean growing up with an unstable home can really break down any kid, as change for the worst is likely in their favor without guidance. In ways you can say Francie is misunderstood. Along with living in an unstable household, the way people treated this kid was brutal at times. I mean the name calling is one thing, but grown men tried to drown him to learn a “lesson”... Francie takes full responsibility for his actions, but it didn’t become a monster on his own. The scene where Francie loses his mother is just depressing... Like I felt extremely bad for this kid, despite he robbed a local bakery shop earlier, the pay off really gets you at the end where he thinks of his mother and then he comes home to a devastating discovery.
I felt the film could’ve explored more of Francie’s and his mothers relationship more, you understand the solid bond, but I felt it could’ve been shown more where it would be more impactful, as to why staying with his alcoholic father is downright upsetting. You can say the film does explore what loneliness can do for an individual. The less people Francie had around him, the crazier he got moving forward. When you’re in complete isolation, Francie really starts to lose his mind, as things begin to become worse and worse. I mean you see how isolation is getting to some people during this Coronavirus, people forget how import interactive socialization in terms of mental health. Every now and then this spiritual figure comes in Francie’s life, talking some sense to him, as I believe this a case of a mental issue, due to the fact she delivers some strange advice. Some things felt a bit unclear to me, the way some people handled Francie. Like how the church let him go, after stabbing a pastor in the neck felt odd. I also found how the townspeople handled him in the end made no sense, like what did you think was going to happen?! This kid is a mad man, be a little more aware of the possibility of what is bound to happen at any given moment.
Cast wise I found pretty much everyone to be great in this film. I’m surprised Eamonn Owens didn’t take off after this film, he was given more roles but I felt he could’ve been a star, an excellent debut. I think what carries this film is how it’s directed. Despite the dialogue not feeling completely clear, visually by the actors you can understand exactly what is going on, the way the characters are expressing their feelings. I give a lot of credit to Neil Jordan for his directing in this film, when you can elevate a film by directing the actors to make the film understandable visually, without not clearly understanding the dialogue, it’s an impressive accomplishment. The earlier years of Neil Jordan seem to be the most successful of his film making career. I do kind of enjoyed Greta and The Brave One, but you can clearly tell with The Butcher Boy elite Jordan was back in the 90’s, as I look forward to visiting those earlier films very soon, after this well made film.
Overall, The Butcher Boy is a pretty good film. I highly recommend checking this one out, may not be for everyone but it’s definitely a fascinating piece of cinema. See ya next week on Retro Talk! -Mitch Smietana