Oh, how "The Tiger's Tail" would be such a great movie, if only it knew what kind of movie it wanted to be. Writer/director John Boorman tries a little of everything - there's paranoid thriller, political tirade, heartfelt family drama, and a pinch of dark comedy - and he does it all rather well, but the pieces frustrate as they fail to add up. This is a film with a dangerous case of ADD.
Brendan Gleeson, delivering a razor-sharp performance that's to credit for giving the disjointed story such life, stars as Liam O'Leary, a wealthy, respected property developer and major power player in Dublin's political circles. He's also a man falling apart at the seams: he keeps seeing himself around town, a convincing doppelganger roaming the streets, spying in on Liam's charmed life.
It's this concept that gives the film its smartest - and most entertaining - moments. Liam attempts to trail his double through the city's dingiest corners; his frustrations later brew as he becomes unable to convince anyone of the twin's existence, even as the twin begins a plot to take over Liam's life. Liam jokes he's in a Kafka story, and Boorman cranks up the tension to dizzying levels.
The script attempts to get philosophical here and there, posing questions about identity and self-worth. (What does it mean if someone else can replace you and nobody notices?) It's a little more than the story ultimately needs, but it's a nice touch.
Better is the personal angle Boorman places in key middle scenes, as Liam returns to his dank childhood home and confronts his mother (Moira Deady). By now we've spent enough time fitting into Liam's life that revelations told here have a proper emotional weight.
But this sequence also plays into Boorman's efforts to turn his film into a rant on class struggle. The filmmaker's message has already reached overkill by this point, delivered in redundant, heavy-handed pokes - a newspaper headline reminds us of Ireland's growing rich-poor divide; Liam's wife (a woefully miscast Kim Cattrall, whose Irish accent is about as shaky as you'd expect) relishes the lavish lifestyle while their son (Briain Gleeson, Brendan's real-life son) is a young communist who rails against such things. Now we see Liam's humble roots, mum's quaint country ways contrasting with son's slick look, and we want to shake the movie, yelling about how we get it already.
Boorman continues: the doppelganger has lived too long in poverty and wants to take Liam's charmed life, an act of revenge on the haves from the have-nots. Gleeson does great work in the dual role, allowing the complexities of both characters to confuse our loyalties. Liam is darker than a hero should be, and there's sympathy to be had for the villain, both without the obvious manipulations. And as the story progresses deeper into madness while revealing more about these men, it doesn't lose its sense of tension. Yet at its core, it's a rather clumsy metaphor, lacking the delicate touch a statement like this requires. (Lest we still not comprehend, later scenes feature visits to homeless shelters and insane asylums, with the filmmaker making numerous complaints about the shoddy assistance visitors find in both.)
Oddly, the finale delivers a sharp shift away from suspense as Boorman attempts to craft a tender drama of family relations. The focus turns to Liam's reconciliation of himself - is Liam the man (and the husband, and the father) he wants to be? Boorman's screenplay builds to a third act crisis completely separate from the doppelganger storyline. It's somewhat effective on its own, but as part of the whole, it feels unearned and out of place.
Boorman remains confident enough in his directorial skills to keep everything sharp and exciting, though, and "The Tiger's Tail" engages the viewer even as it frustrates. The effects of "too much all at once" are lessened by intelligent pacing and clever character work. Over the past decade, Boorman has settled quite nicely into a world of the small scale thriller and has found a wonderful muse in the form of Gleeson, who returns for his fourth team-up with the filmmaker. Here, they craft a messy but absorbing mystery.
Video & Audio
Once again, Fox has supplied DVD Talk with a heavily compressed, watermarked DVD-R screener and not final shelf copy for review. As such, we're unable to provide a proper look at the transfer's video and audio, other than to inform you that the film is featured in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby 5.1 audio and optional English subtitles. If/when a full retail version is supplied to us, we'll update this review accordingly.
The lack of extras are disappointing - I'd love to hear what Boorman thought of this project. As such, while Gleeson's performance demands a look, there's nothing here to warrant repeat viewings. Rent It.