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No Looking Back.

By Ray Pride

APRIL 20, 1998: 

Full-lilt madness: what else to call the empathetic sweep of Neil Jordan's audacious "The Butcher Boy"? It's a rude romp through the mind of 12-year-old Francie Brady, a clear-eyed psychopathic boy who runs amuck in a rural Irish village in 1962. Young Eamonn Owens is an unshackled marvel as Francie, all wide, pie-faced smile pasted on a freckly pumpkin head thatched with unruly red hair. And then there's the story, drawn from Patrick McCabe's rude and dazzling 1993 novel, filled with ungenteel exuberance and humor as black as plague. Jordan and McCabe's adaptation courses through the fantastical distractions in the confused young man's head with the alacrity of a musical, comic-book visions of the Virgin Mary alongside monster-movie imagery, mushroom clouds sweeping into a vision of Ireland as a brutal glade. It seems a world of madness is required to drive out the small-town cruelty, the abuse from his alcoholic father, the weakness of his frail-minded mother. With the help of cinematographer Adrian Biddle, Jordan creates a world as much an Irish "Underground" as a Gaelic "My Life as a Dog." It is unrelenting. I don't know how good "The Butcher Boy" is--is it truly, truly great or just rhapsodically, flabbergastingly assured? It's the kind of movie you want to examine a few more times, figure out what makes it tick, and to savor the dense Irish slang, where the language runs to exclamations like, "There hasn't been this much crack around here since Bull McCrae drove the goat!"

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