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MOVIE REVIEW : Irish Underworld Sets Scene for 'Courier'

December 15, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"The Courier" (Music Hall) is a mixture of two sensibilities, two kinds of movies: Irish gritty urban naturalism and pseudo-American thriller. It was co-directed by Joe Lee and scenarist Frank Deasy, and it's about a hero trapped and traveling between two worlds: Dublin's criminal underworld and the realm of law and order.

Protagonist Mark (Padraig O'Loingsigh) begins like a Dublin Travis Bickel in "Taxi Driver," drifting on the edges, an ex-druggie motorcycle messenger alienated from his old user pals, tunneling through the city's corruption and rot. Gradually, he gets sucked in, at first when he discovers that his messenger service is used to run drugs, and later, when a friend, heroin addict Danny (Andrew Connelly), is half-blinded and poisoned with strychnine-laced smack by his gangster bosses.

There are too many twos here though, too much duality. Though it's not an especially complex or original plot, the movie becomes almost murderously hard to untangle.

Some audiences may get the heroine, Colette (played by Cait O'Riordan, ex-bassist of the Pogues), confused with Sharon (Michelle Houlden), who works for the courier service. And they may not remember which girl is pregnant, or the mechanics of Mark's bizarre revenge scheme, which includes delivering heroin back to the local drug king, Val (Gabriel Byrne) and, minutes later, planting drug money on the investigating cop, McGuigan (Ian Bannen).

Indeed, by the end of "The Courier," when one of two girls gets shot after being mistaken for Mark, and Mark shoots a gay hustler whom he mistakes for Val, and Val gets caught in a cross-fire, you may decide that the movie has wigged out on a dialectic of dualities. Is the point that there is no point? Or maybe two?

The youthful co-directors, Lee and Deasy, have assembled an unusually talented group. Their cinematographer, Gabriel Beristain, shot Derek Jarman's ravishing "Caravaggio." The score is by Declan McManus (a. k. a. rock star Elvis Costello) and the cast includes Byrne and Bannen--who is beginning to seem a double for Cyril Cusack, both in looks and talent.

Laudably, Deasy and Lee are trying to catch a side of Dublin rarely penetrated by movies: the youthful drug culture, a weirdly Americanized underworld. The villain, Val, played with reptilian charm and sadism by Byrne, also runs a video store, chockful of heavy-industrial American thrillers. And one minor character, suddenly mutters, in befuddlement, "I'm a video!"--which is perhaps the movie's secret creed.

Perhaps Deasy and Lee would have been better off forgetting the archetypal thriller plot and concentrating instead on the seedier side of Dublin, working out of the passion, guts and ambiguities of these sordid backgrounds and twisted souls. Instead, "The Courier" (MPAA-rated R, for language and violence) seems to be constantly muttering, in befuddlement, "I'm a video!"

Is this movie the work of people who want to become rich rebel heroes and somehow make a million for not selling out? Or are we being overly nasty, overly suspicious? After all, as Lee and Deasy know well, there are two sides to everything.

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