How do you solve a problem like John Boorman? A director who flips from flat-out masterpiece to incoherent wreck like you or I walk out the front door, his career has been a sort of ping-pong match, with early classics like Point Break giving way to later missteps like Beyond Rangoon, or that delightful moment in the mid-'70s when he followed the brilliant Deliverance with the unmentionable Zardoz and Exorcist II: The Heretic, itself followed by one of the greatest Arthurian films ever, Excalibur.

I mean to say that a new Boorman film is to be met with at best cautious optimism, although the presence of the marvelous actor Brendan Gleeson (his fourth turn with the director) led me to have a little more enthusiasm going into The Tiger's Tail than was warranted. And indeed, my enthusiasm proved unfounded, even if it was well-placed: if there's anything about the movie that really rises above the mediocre, it's Gleeson's fantastic portrayal of not just a boorishly charming Dublin land developer named Liam O'Leary, but also the very nasty doppelgänger who starts appearing just when Liam's world is starting to split apart at the seams, from a failing marriage to a sullen Communist son to a series of imploding business ventures.

Somewhere in all this is meant to be a commentary on the changing face of Ireland into a bland capitalist playground like most of England and America; even the title comes from a speech Liam gives describing the opportunities and dangers present in bringing all the modernity money can buy into an economy like Dublin's. Apparently, this has even been enough to cause something of a controversy around the film as anti-Irish. I guess I'm just an ignorant or insensitive bastard for thinking that all this rich and frankly heavy-handed rhetoric serves as virtually nothing more than window dressing for a decidedly typical identity crisis thriller, if one made reasonably pleasing to watch thanks to Gleeson.

The rest of the cast does a reasonable job of making rote material seem somewhat interesting: particularly Briain Gleeson as Liam's son Connor, who looks exactly like Brendan Gleeson's son for the very good reason that he is, and in his very first professional acting gig demonstrates a fair amount of dexterity in making a minor character interesting and rounded. That old workhorse Ciarán Hinds does pretty much what he does, and the terribly under-appreciated Irish actress Sinéad Cusack is marvelous Liam's sister with a dark secret, like Connor a one-not role turned into a full character through performance. Only Kim Cattrall, as Liam's wife Jane, falls flat: late in the film, much of the plot hinges on whether or not she knows that Liam's double is infiltrating his life, and the actress does not help us out at all. Not to mention that her accent keeps dipping into straight-up American Midwesterner, rather curious given that Cattrall is a native Liverpudlian.

Outside of those actors, I can't convince myself that there's much of any reason to bother with the film. Boorman's direction of his own script is pedestrian at the very best, killing the story's thriller elements, dulling its psychological ends and completely hiding its putative social commentary. The movie has no soul, that's what Boorman does to it. Except for a few very well-executed shots in a traffic jam in the first scene, there's no forward momentum, no sense of anxiousness, no danger. It's completely vanilla and uninteresting.

But, it doesn't have a giant stone head cursing men's genitalia. I have to give it credit for that.


P.S. Apparently, in Britain this is viewed as a failed dark comedy. So dark, and so failed, that I didn't even notice. Gah.