The Tiger’s Tail
2006Director: John Boorman
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Kim Cattrall, Ciaran Hinds
ohn Boorman is a forgotten man—and that’s a damn shame. Filmmakers often leave their audiences behind for reasons that are all too clear: Mike Figgis and Gus Van Sant have eloped into an experimental realm of varying success; Oliver Stone’s powers are clearly diminished; Francis Ford Coppola’s output too delayed; Spielberg’s too big; Hodges’, too small; and Nicholas Roeg’s, well, not at all. With Boorman it’s not so obvious why he has fallen out of favor both in terms of commercial spangle and critical esteem. Okay, he’s had a fair few stinkers (Exorcist II: The Heretic, Zardoz and Beyond Rangoon). But this is the great director who brought consistently thrilling pictures to the world with Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific, Deliverance, Where the Heart Is and The Tailor of Panama. Boorman hasn’t stopped making well-crafted, interesting films; it’s just that we have largely stopped noticing.
In the director’s latest release, he tells the story of Dublin’s greatest capitalist: Liam O’Leary (Gleeson) is confronted with his exact double, a man who steals his identity, pops his wife, and ruins everything Liam thought was important to him. However, to his surprise the intrusion is a relief and the theft of his personality becomes to him the sincerest kind of liberation.
With elements of “The Prince and the Pauper” and Dostoevsky’s “The Double” rather messily thrown together, there’s nothing subtle about The Tiger’s Tail. The opening twenty minutes are particularly ropey: the heavy-handed, thick-tongued and fat-lipped clash of accents, clichés and exposition is as inexpertly handled as could be imagined. It soon becomes clear, however, that Boorman is just impatient, keen to negotiate the slight nonsense of the setting and context of his film. There is something undeniably phoney about the opening of all narratives in that the storyteller is doing their best to color what is essentially an elaborate untruth. So, Boorman’s approach is fine by me: let’s break through the thin skin of plausibility and feast on the heart of the story as soon as possible. At 74, the director has an eagerness to progress, instilling the movie with admirable vigor.
The film is rife with the broad strokes of magic realism and the transparent metaphors of all fabulous tales. However, the fundamentals of the narrative are so strong and classically aligned that, once it finds its feet and Gleeson discovers his powerful range, it gathers considerable momentum. Gleeson is a force to be reckoned with, a puggish brute with a deceptively sharp intelligence. He was magnificent in Boorman’s The General, another vastly underrated film that sunk without a trace. His charming, disgruntled wit is well used here, serving a film that relies on wooing the audience. Liam O’Leary is unambiguously drawn as a Kafka-esque figure wrestling (literally) with sinister forces attempting to drag him out of existence. Liam has been caught up in the net of globalization—the thought of losing his money but regaining the respect of his son offers him a second chance at a life wasted in boardrooms and bedrooms. It’s hard to disagree with the solid if simplistic moral: it’s worth fighting for the things that make you happy.
There’s something about a John Boorman film that reminds me of the classic Powell and Pressburger movies. For the first twenty or thirty minutes, these filmmakers waver between brilliant and laughable and I’m never certain on which side they will emerge. Almost invariably my suspicions are ill-founded and I’m treated to one marvel after another. Boorman’s films require a similar amount of faith as his often tactless style needs time to win us over. I am grateful to be chastised by such storytellers—they are certain about what it takes to make a movie work, exposing my doubts as shamefully profane.
Although it’s almost impossible for me to think of Kim Cattrall doing anything other than giving or receiving oral sex, even her Lucky Charm accent (they’re magically delicious) cannot derail the narrative locomotion. It’s to Boorman’s credit that the implausibility of the story and sometimes cartoonish characterisation steals nothing from the overall enjoyment and emotional weight of The Tiger’s Tail. There’s a basic purity of spirit here that is truly remarkable for a filmmaker of Boorman’s experience. I can’t wait to see his next movie—at least there won’t be any queues.
The Tiger’s Tail is in limited release around the UK.