Director: Paul Mercier
Cast: Ruth Bradley, Barry Ward, Brendan Gleeson
Synopsis: A gangster’s daughter and the man she loves are hunted by the man to whom she was betrothed.
Writer-director Paul Mercier, one of Ireland’s leading stage directors, makes a rare foray into the world of cinema for Pursuit, an intense gangster picture based upon the Irish folklore legend The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne. It’s a story that will be unfamiliar to most people outside of the Emerald Isle, but bears comparison in some respects to the Arthurian legend of Lancelot and Guinevere.
In Pursuit, Dublin gangster Ffion (Liam Cunningham – The Wind that Shakes the Barley) is betrothed to Grainne (Ruth Bradley – Grabbers, In Her Skin), the daughter of rival gangster King (Owen Roe). The marriage is one of convenience for both men, forging an alliance designed to diminish the threat of gang warfare, and strengthening them both against the ever-present threat from a third enigmatic crime lord called Searbhan (Brendan Gleeson – The Guard, Edge of Tomorrow). Although Grainne has agreed to marry Ffion, she is secretly horrified at the thought of betrothal to a man who is older than her father. Her true love is Diarmuid (Barry Ward), one of Ffion’s foot soldiers, whom she abducts at gunpoint. When Diarmuid learns that Ffion has order his killing, he has no choice but to go on the run with his kidnapper.
The problem with Mercier’s adaptation is that it sacrifices any kind of depth of character for the sake of staying as faithful as possible to the legend’s storyline without straying into the realm of fantasy. All but Ffion, the troubled gang leader played with a brooding intensity by Liam Cunningham, comes across as anything other than a one-dimensional product of the situation in which they find themselves rather than fully-rounded characters for whom Grainne’s flight is merely one incident in their life. Everyone runs around in a state of extreme stress for much of the film, which is understandable given the circumstances, but ultimately exhausting for the audience as the cast deliver their lines at breakneck speed.
The quality of Pursuit’s cast is testimony to Mercier’s reputation as Ireland’s foremost stage director, and he draws passionate performances from them all, although the bear-like Brendan Gleeson, who is probably the biggest name attached, appears only briefly. It must have been a daunting prospect for a stage director to stage a movie with so many action scenes, but Mercier handles them with assurance, and also makes use of Ireland’s lush and rugged locations to good effect. Ultimately, though, Pursuit lacks the tension and excitement one would expect from a movie about lovers on the run, and fails to generate any real pathos in its downbeat ending.
(Reviewed 10th December 2015)