Film set during Irish civil war creates a sense of a lost world

MOVIE REVIEW

November 01, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Tidiness is overrated, primarily because tidy people run the world. But take a movie like "Fools of Fortune," currently at the Towson: it's a complete mess. And yet in that mess there's such passion, such hunger to tell a story, such emotional voltage that the movie is far more rewarding than the dozen neater pictures now in the marketplace.

It's set over two decades in Ireland, the bloody '20s and the depressed '30s, and chronicles a family's terrifying voyage through violent tragedy and embitterment to vengeance and finally some kind of conditional redemption.

You'll probably be somewhat at sea in the early going, where director Pat O'Connor flashes chaotically between several time frames. But soon enough the movie settles down, and only the dimmest among you will fail to recognize the lyrical camera movements and over-chlorophylled cinematography of the classic Edenic flashback in contrast to the harsh blue lighting of the unlovely present.

In this unlovely present, Willie Quinton (Iain Glen), living a neurotic pauper's life on a raw Northern European seacoast, is recalling his lovely childhood as the only son of a prosperous Irish Protestant industrialist, with a beautiful mother, his wonderful two sisters and the whole Upstairs-Downstairsy rhythm and sweetness of life in a manor house. O'Connor's re-creation of this gilded age is the sure tip-off to the approach of catastrophe, which arrives in the form of a sergeant in the Black and Tans, the elite unit the British sent to Ireland to quell the IRA rebellion.

This lout nurses an obscure grudge against the Quintons, resulting in a horrifying massacre. The movie then abruptly shifts gears, chronicling Willie's wretched post-trauma life and his neurotic affair with Mary Elizabeth Matrantonio, an English girl. Then -- oh, what a mess! -- it lurches into yet another gear, five years further down the line, after his self-exile (for mysterious reasons) and her life as the unwed mother of their daughter.

Eventually, the movie sorts itself out, achieving a kind of final grace, as the various sundered survivors finally face each other and reach out across the chasm of grief that separates them. The film is richly neurotic and perhaps overvalues the distressed state of mind, where all emotions are bald and painful. But it does create the sense of a lost world and a grim future where the only hopes are the healing powers of love and forgiveness.

'Fools of Fortune'

Starring Julie Christie, Iain Glen and Mary Elizabeth Matrantonio.

Directed by Pat O'Connor.

Released by New Line.

Rated R.

** 1/2

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