Pursuit review: firing up the Fenian Cycle

Paul Mercier’s Irish gangster thriller is so well made that it doesn’t need to dish on the pointlessly slavish mythology

Film Title: Pursuit

Director: Paul Mercier

Starring: Ruth Bradley, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Ward, Owen Roe, Liam Cunningham, Don Wycherley, Dara Devaney, David Pearse

Genre: Crime

Running Time: 95 min

Thu, Sep 17, 2015, 22:00


There are lessons here about the dangers of imposing ancient stories on quasi-naturalistic contemporary dramas.

Nearly a decade after the release of Studs, his treatment of a much-loved stage play, Paul Mercier, founder of the Passion Machine theatre company, has finally delivered his second feature. Pursuit is a nice-looking, impeccably acted gangster flick with satisfactory amounts of gunplay, but viewers unaware of the film’s mythological substructure will find themselves constantly jarred into dizzy bewilderment.

“You broke the peace with the Searbhán and we are at war with the De Dannan,” one hoodlum says to another at one point. Sorry? You what?

Pursuit offers a contemporary take on the legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne. Liam Cunningham plays Fionn, a criminal mandarin who, to consolidate power, agrees to marry Gráinne (Ruth Bradley), the much younger daughter of a rival chief named – wait for it, wait for it – Mr King (Owen Roe).

Sadly, before they get to settle down, Gráinne puts a gun to the head of Diarmuid (Barry Ward), a Fionn lieutenant, and forces him to light out for the territories. The frantic pursuit eventually brings the couple to the Mediterranean and an illusion of security.

After decades of theatrical fecundity, Mercier is able to call on an impeccable cast, and no one lets him down. Cunningham does this sort of mean bastard so well he has just about created a Liam Cunningham Type. Roe is damply sleazy. Bradley buzzes with frantic energy. Barry Ward build on his excellent work in Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall.

It’s a shame the mythology is slavered on with such a liberal ladle. The notion of structuring your story around an ancient myth (or a Shakespearean play or a 19th-century novel) is a perfectly decent one. But bringing so many original names and archaic customs to a contemporary tale too often pushes the action into absurdity. This sort of thing works better in the more heightened confines of the theatre.

In the cinema (among real cars, real streets, real guns) we are too often brought up short by clanging chords from distant epochs.