After Frankie Maguire sees his father murdered he becomes an IRA activist. On the run and on a mission he stowes away with street cop Tom O'Meara and moves to cause havoc, in the form of large numbers of missiles, in New York totally unbeknown to his kind father-figure friend.
With the rare old brouhaha that blew up during shooting - overruns, creative clashes, general script jiggery-pokery and lead actors venting spleen in public - it is hard to be clear-headed about this IRA-themed pot-boiler from All The President's Men's Pakula. For all the smoke there's got to be fire. But while this is by no means the movie it should have been, there is still much to appreciate amid the weaving of plot, the trilling of Gaelic pipes and the blunderbuss approach to evaluating Northern Ireland's eternal conflict. The emphasis on character in Rambo scribe Kevin Jarre's screenplay (aided by Vincent Patrick and David Aaron Cohen) gives the film unexpected maturity.
An eight-year-old Frankie Maguire (later played by Pitt) watches his pa take a sectarian bullet and grows up to be an inflamed activist for the IRA. He has no qualms about killing, indeed, barely has the commencing flashback wilted, than Brad Pitt is spraying dank Ulster streets with ludicrous automatic gunfire. On the run and on a mission, he ships to New York, and a safe haven with unknowing Irish street cop Tom O'Meara (Ford). The crux of the matter is that cop and undercover terrorist bond - with Freudian loopiness, O'Meara is touted as some kind of surrogate father figure. All is just too peachy, mind. And as the moralistic cop shares hearth and home, his Provo tenant finalises a shipment of missiles for the cause with shady, cliched arms dealer Billy Burke (Williams). Soon enough, the emerald hued excrement hits the Big Apple fan and the film gets on with being a thriller (as the Burke deal sours, balaclava'd thuggery enters the mix).
Pakula is one for the slow build. Too much time is spent showing what a do-gooder Ford is - his expert human characterisation has already done the trick - with extraneous policing sub-plots and twee family gatherings. However, in keeping the terrorism to the sidelines it becomes harder and harder to accept Pitt as the cold-hearted killer and the jolt into the closing chase sequence is effectively harsh. Predictably, as Pitt flips and hits the street it is the big-hearted cop who elects to bring him in alive, never quite shaking those son-he-never-had feelings.
What the film really gets arse-about-face is its political bearing. It's a tasty moral conundrum - true killers can have a human side; what do you do if you love them? Choosing to hang it round the mess of Northern Ireland was foolishness. Big movies have rarely grasped the political sensitivity of the region (for every Michael Collins there is a Blown Away), and here the naiveté is rife. Yes, it's more switched on than Patriot Games' maddo IRA faction, and Pitt does better with the accent than you'd expect, but turning the whole thing into a dogged Western and offering an idiotic redemption for the confused terrorist will leave a bad taste in many mouths.
Better, then, to keep your mind open, shrug off the controversy, dismiss the scuttlebutt and bad-mouthing and enjoy a couple of zinger performances in a solid if uneven game of movie cat and mouse.
Taken as a game of cat-and-mouse, this film works well. You just have to ignore the Irish political plot.