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"THE BUTCHER BOY"
(1998) (Eamonn Owens, Stephen Rea) (R)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Moderate Heavy Extreme *Moderate Heavy
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Moderate Minor Mild None Extreme
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Minor Mild Extreme Mild Extreme


QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A young, but charming sociopath terrorizes an adult neighbor and her son.
PLOT:
Francie Brady (EAMONN OWENS) is a troubled, but charming twelve-year-old boy growing up in a small town in 1960's Ireland. With an alcoholic dad, Benny (STEPHEN REA), who used to be musician, and a neurotic mother, Annie (AISLING O'SULLIVAN), who's on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Francie hangs out with his best friend, Joe (ALAN BOYLE), or retreats into his own fantasy world filled with bugeyed aliens, communists, occasional nuclear blasts, and chats with the Virgin Mary (SINÉAD O'CONNOR).

His favorite pastime, however, is irritating Mrs. Nugent (FIONA SHAW), an uppity neighbor who recently likened the Brady's to a bunch of pigs. So, Francie and Joe go about terrorizing Nugent's straightlaced son, Philip, when not taunting her. Things get worse when Francie's mother kills herself -- leaving him with his boozed up father -- and when Joe soon backs away from Francie's behavior and befriends Philip. As Francie progressively gets more agitated and violent, things come to a head after he takes a job helping at the local butcher shop, calling himself "the butcher boy," and soon loses his last contacts with sanity and reality.

WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
Preteens won't, but some teens might if they hear the "buzz" about how disturbing the film is supposed to be.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: R
For language and violence.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • EAMONN OWENS plays a twelve-year-old kid who, despite his charming demeanor, quickly becomes an ever increasingly dangerous sociopath.
  • STEPHEN REA plays Francie's alcoholic father who beats his wife and child when not completely out of it from being drunk.
  • AISLING O'SULLIVAN plays Francie's neurotic mother who has a nervous breakdown and eventually kills herself.
  • ALAN BOYLE plays Francie's best friend who eventually tries to distance himself from Francie once he sees what a sociopath he's become.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
    Every once in a while, a provocative and disturbing film comes along that polarizes moviegoers into two distinct camps. Some find the material thought provoking, and its intensity and visual style exhilarating. Others, however, find the proceedings unappealing if not downright appalling. "The Butcher Boy," the latest film from director Neil Jordan of "The Crying Game" and "Interview With The Vampire" fame, is exactly such a film.

    The problem, at least for me, is that even several days after seeing this release, I'm still not entirely sure into which camp I fall. The film is definitely disturbing -- a twelve-year-old sociopath's descent into ever greater madness -- but Jordan presents it in such a surreal, sideshow-like, and hell's a-poppin' fashion that you're never quite sure whether you should look away or just stare at the oddities. It's as if he's combined the most bizarre qualities of the works from Terry Gilliam ("Brazil") and Tim Burton ("Edward Scissorhands") and then funneled them through some sort of hallucinogenic cheesecloth, resulting in what we experience on screen.

    The film is also quite reminiscent of another highly controversial film from several decades ago, "A Clockwork Orange." The similarities -- whether intentional or not -- are striking and numerous. Both feature a young European sociopath who lives by his own set of rules and terrorizes the locals in his neighborhood, and each tale is fondly and colorfully retold by a narrator in hindsight (including comments about getting the "not a bad bastard anymore" award that easily could have been said by Malcolm McDowell's character in Stanley Kubrick's classic).

    Both also effectively use music to accentuate the proceedings -- albeit of much different styles with "Clockwork" synthesizing Beethoven's work, and "Butcher Boy" using frenetic tunes mixed with bizarre additions such as a "Hawaiianized" version of "Mack The Knife."

    Unlike "A Clockwork Orange," however, this film never pulls the audience deeply into the story. While it's visually mesmerizing, the sheer amount of "weird" material -- while effective at keeping the audience continuously off balance -- doesn't allow us to really care about the characters or what's occurring. One simply watches in amazement or horror -- much like witnessing a horrific car accident -- but there are so many such "accidents" that the effect becomes numbing.

    In addition, the film doesn't change or grow in its approach. Whereas "Clockwork" posed the sociological question about whether the "cure" to such behavior was actually worse than the symptoms, this film follows a straight path into madness and has too much out of control momentum to make it back out or do anything else. While it hints at what might have caused Francie's "condition" (the ultimate dysfunctional family, cold war worries, etc...) this film hasn't set out to directly point fingers.

    Our "conductor" for this trip is fifteen-year-old Eamonn Owens as young Francie Brady. Perfectly capturing and balancing the charming, but wise innocense of an outgoing prepubescent boy and the psychopathic behavior of a troubled delinquent, what's most surprising about Owen's performance is that it's his first. Performing like a veteran actor, Owens easily commands the screen. While not as "likeable" or sympathetic as Malcolm McDowell's character in "Clockwork," Owen's take as Francie isn't completely without some moments where you wonder how this precocious kid could do such horrible things. Even so, he's the most terrifying kid to appear on screen since the Udvarnoky brothers in the spooky 1972 horror film, "The Other." Don't be surprised to see a great deal of quality work from this talented young actor in the future.

    The rest of the performances are good, but not outstanding, simply because Owens dominates the time on screen. Steven Rea (nominated for "The Crying Game") is competent as Francie's alcoholic father, but playing a slovenly and nearly passed out drunk limits what he's able to deliver. Meanwhile, Fiona Shaw ("My Left Foot"), as Francie's arch nemesis neighbor, Mrs. Nugent, is fun in a Miss Gulch sort of way (Margaret Hamilton's non-witch character in "The Wizard Of Oz"), but her character isn't explored or developed enough to be as effective as she could have been.

    While Jordan's other recent efforts have shown strong, linear narrative styles, this film falls all over the map. Additionally, like so many pictures based in Ireland, the accents are so strong that you constantly worry that you're missing bits and pieces of what's being said. Although we hate their use, some subtitles would definitely have been helpful. In any case, the end result of both problems is that we're always kept at a distance from the proceedings and thus are never able to become emotionally involved in the story or the characters.

    It's disturbing watching a kid self-destruct, but in the end we never really empathize with his plight. Even so, the film is very powerful and does contain scenes that you won't forget for some time after seeing it. Whether you'll love it or hate it is hard to say, and time may even change your initial opinion of the film, but one thing's for certain. It's not like anything else you'll probably see this year. Still mixed in our reaction to the film, we give "The Butcher Boy" a 5.5 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    The film obviously isn't for some moviegoers and parents may be cautious about letting any but the oldest of teens see this picture. The main character is a sociopath who eventually becomes quite troublesome and then murderously violent. In doing so, we see him shoot a person point blank in the head and then hack them into pieces (we later see the severed head role out of the trash). Other moments may also come off as tense or upsetting to viewers.

    Others may take offense to the film's portrayal of religion. The main character interacts with a vision of the Virgin Mary (who curses), a priest is portrayed as a sexual deviant, and other events occur. Profanity is extreme with at least 29 "f" words and an assortment of others, and Francie's family is the epitome of a completely dysfunctional unit. Although it's questionable how many teens will want to see this film, you should definitely take a look through the content listings should someone in your home be interested in this feature.


    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • The narrator claims that Francie's father was the best drinker in town (ie. An alcoholic), and we see Benny drink in a few scenes, while in others he's drunk.
  • Francie drinks liquor straight from the bottle.
  • Other minor characters also drink.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • Joe cuts Francie's hand with a knife and we see some blood before they do a blood brothers handshake.
  • Some blood splatters on Francie when a butcher shoots a pig with a gun. We later see Francie carrying the severed pig's head.
  • A man's head is bloody after Francie hits him there with a large rock.
  • We see Francie's daydream/fantasy after a nuclear blast where many charred pigs -- dressed and posed like humans -- are present.
  • Francie holds a gun to a woman's head and pulls the trigger, splattering blood everywhere. We then see him repeatedly swinging a large butcher knife (as he hacks her body into pieces -- not seen then, but we later see the severed head) with more blood splattering everywhere. Later, people go into the house that's covered in blood, with words written in blood appearing on the walls.
  • Some kids dig through a trash heap when a severed head rolls out toward them.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • Some viewers may see the film's attitude (and that of the main character) toward religion as having both. For instance, the musician Sinead O'Conner (who tore up the Pope's picture on "Saturday Night Live") is cast as the Virgin Mary (who swears), while one priest is portrayed as a sexual pervert, and Francie poses and acts like a choir boy.
  • Francie and Joe play like (American) Indians and put "war paint" on their faces and whoop and holler while making stereotypical Indian sounds.
  • Francie and Joe climb Mrs. Nugent's apple tree and shake it to make the apples drop to the ground. They then take Philip's comic books.
  • Overall, Francie sets out to make Mrs. Nugent's (and her son's) life as miserable as possible and strives to do so throughout the film (partially because she likened him and his family to pigs). In one scene he lets himself into Mrs. Nugent's home and trashes the place, smashing her cakes, making a mess, and writes graffiti all over her place. We then see him lower his pants, squat down, and it's implied that he then defecates on her floor.
  • Francie steals money from an open cash register when the teller momentarily walks away.
  • Some "brothers" of Mrs. Nugent come after Francie and Joe (in several scenes) to "teach them a lesson" (threaten or beat them) for being disrespectful to her or Philip.
  • A groundsman gives a priest "the finger" after being told how to take care of the grounds.
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • Since so much of this is presented in a fantasy or just plain weird manner, some kids and parents will find it tense or scary, while others won't at all.
  • Viewers may find scenes listed under "Violence" as tense as well.
  • Francie lures Philip into a barn where he then proceeds to repeatedly hit the boy with a chain until Joe stops him. Joe then holds a knife to Francie's throat and makes him swear he'll never go near Philip again. He then cuts Francie's hand with the knife (we see some blood) and then does the same to himself so that they can shake hands and be blood brothers.
  • Mrs. Nugent's adult "brothers" confront Joe and Francie for their past taunting and one of the men takes Francie and holds him under water until they believe they've accidentally drowned him.
  • Francie's father dies and the boy keeps his body there for several days.
  • We see Francie's daydream/fantasy after a nuclear blast where many charred pigs -- dressed and posed like humans -- are present.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • We see a laser gun in a shot from a comic book, as well as a tank shooting flames during the opening credits montage.
  • Knife: Held by Joe to Francie's throat to make him agree to leave Philip alone, and later held to another person's throat.
  • Handgun: Used by a butcher to kill a pig and later used by Francie to shoot a woman point blank in the head.
  • Airgun: Used by Francie to shoot targets in an arcade game.
  • Nuclear bombs: We see a few of them go off in Francie's daydreams/fantasies.
  • Butcher's knives: Used by Francie to hack a woman's body into pieces (not explicitly seen, but later we do see the severed head).
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Due to the heavy Irish accents, there could be more phrases than listed below.
  • Phrases: "F*ck off," "Bastard," "Bullocks," "Shut up," and what sounded like "Bitch."
  • Joe cuts Francie's hand and then his own so that they can shake hands and be blood brothers.
  • Francie lets himself into Mrs. Nugent's home and trashes the place, smashing her cakes, making a mess, and writes graffiti all over her place. We then see him lower his pants, squat down, and it's implied that he then defecates on her floor.
  • A groundsman gives a priest "the finger" after being told how to take care of the grounds.
  • Francie makes a pile of household belongings in his house, pours gasoline on them, and sets them on fire, burning down the house.
  • JUMP SCENES
  • Francie holds a gun to a woman's head and then unexpectedly pulls the trigger, sending blood splattering everywhere.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • There is a mild amount of suspenseful music in the film, with a bit more being heard in some programs Francie sees on TV (the old "The Fugitive" show, etc...).
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • None.
  • PROFANITY
  • Due to the heavy Irish accents, there could be more profanity than what is listed.
  • At least 29 "f" words, 6 "s" words, 7 hells, 5 asses, and 9 uses of "Jesus," and 2 uses each of "God," "Jesus, Mary and Joseph," "Christ," "By Christ," "For Jesus's sakes," "For God's sakes" and "My God," and 1 use each of "By God," "Oh God" and "Jesus Christ" as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • Francie, later dressed up in a bonnet by one of the priests, comments that a priest was jiggling his hand in his own pocket (ie. Playing with himself) while making Francie talk about his religious visions.
  • SMOKING
  • Francie smokes a few times and is given cigarettes in a few scenes.
  • Francie's dad smokes a few times.
  • Other minor characters also smoke.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • Francie's family is extremely dysfunctional. His father is an alcoholic and is either abusive or mostly "out of it" the rest of the time, while his mother is neurotic and finally has a nervous breakdown.
  • In one scene, he walks in on her standing on the table with a rope in her hand and a chair nearby, preparing to hang herself (she's then taken away for quite some time).
  • Francie hears his parents arguing and hears things breaking and walks in to find broken dishes on the floor. Later he hears them arguing again and we then see his father smack his mother hard enough to knock her to the floor.
  • Later, he returns home to discover that his mother is dead (he walks in on the funeral procession) and that she was found at the bottom of a river. His father essentially then blames the boy for "putting her there" and then states that he also ruined her funeral.
  • Even later, his father dies and Francie keeps the body hidden in their home for several days.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • Conditions (familial, societal, etc...) that lead up to a person becoming a sociopath as occurs in this film.
  • VIOLENCE
  • Although not seen, it's implied that Francie's dad beats him with his belt (we see him going after the boy with it).
  • Francie's father kicks their TV in its screen and destroys it.
  • Francie's father smacks his mother hard enough to send her to the floor.
  • Francie lures Philip into a barn where he then proceeds to repeatedly hit the boy with a chain until Joe stops him. Joe then holds a knife to Francie's throat and makes him swear he'll never go near Philip again. He then cuts Francie's hand with the knife (we see some blood) and then does the same to himself so that they can shake hands and be blood brothers.
  • Mrs. Nugent's adult "brothers" confront Joe and Francie for their past taunting and one of the men takes Francie and holds him under water until they believe they've accidentally drowned him.
  • Francie lets himself into Mrs. Nugent's home and trashes the place, smashing her cakes, making a mess, and writes graffiti all over her place.
  • A man slaps Francie on the back of the head and knocks him down.
  • A knife is briefly held to a person's throat.
  • A butcher shoots a pig with a gun.
  • Mrs. Nugent's brothers show up again and this time one of them repeatedly kicks Francie in the back. Francie then grabs a large rock and repeatedly hits the first man on the head with it, and then hits the other man as well, eventually chasing them off.
  • We see Francie's daydream/fantasy after a nuclear blast where many charred pigs -- dressed and posed like humans -- and destroyed and burning buildings are present.
  • Some doctors zap Francie with an electrical charge during electric shock therapy.
  • Francie holds a gun to a woman's head and pulls the trigger, splattering blood everywhere. We then see him repeatedly swinging a large butcher knife (as he hacks her body into pieces -- not explicitly seen, but later we do see the severed head).
  • Francie hits several investigators with chains and then escapes from them.
  • Francie makes a pile of household belongings in his house, pours gasoline on them, and sets them on fire, burning down the house.



  • Reviewed April 15, 1998

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