Apparently, it takes a fresh set of eyes -- Irish eyes, if you will -- to take a hoary Hollywood cliche such as "the evil twin" and see something new in it.
John Boorman, the writer/director of The Tiger's Tail, is actually British, but he dances around the nouveau-riche/disgruntled-poor dichotomy of boomtown Dublin like a native, wrapping a lesson about the spiritual cost of affluence around the plot of a stolen-identity thriller otherwise suited for B-movie status.
The formidable character actor Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody to Harry Potter fans) is the tentpole of the film, playing both Liam O'Leary -- an unscrupulous and charismatic land developer, emblematic of the sort who mows down boomtown heritage buildings to put up soulless condos -- and the bitter, coarse, nameless doppelganger he never knew he had.
When we meet Liam, he's at the peak of his powers as a free-enterprise hero, being honoured on live TV at the Irish Enterprise Awards and announcing his dream to bring European soccer to Ireland by appropriating land and building a major-league stadium -- despite the meddling opposition of municipal officials.
And yet, he has begun to doubt his contribution to the world -- partly because of the constant Marxist twittering in his ear by his playfully provocateur son Connor (played by Gleeson's real-life son Briain), partly because of the distance that's grown between him and his trophy wife Jane (an Irish-lite accented Kim Cattrall), and partly because of a "double" who appears, wraithlike, squeegeeing the windows of his expensive car, accosting him in bars, etc.
At first, convinced he's hallucinating, Liam imagines the doppelganger as a harbinger of his own death.
But the double is quickly revealed to be flesh-and-blood, and with a deftly-handled switcharoo, The Tiger's Tail (the title refers to a speech O'Leary gives about the risks of Ireland's runaway oil-fueled economy) becomes a Kafkaesque tale of a man whose identity is literally lost. Without the accoutrements of a rich man's life (and somebody convincingly in his place), the real O'Leary is unrecognizable, even by his closest friends.
Soon, he is placed in a mental ward.
The story is simple enough that Boorman takes plenty of sideroad tours into the heart of a former have-not country that the director obviously believes has sold its soul and is paying the price.
We see cobblestoned boulevards of nouveau-riche club kids, drunk and stoned on Ecstasy, puking in the streets (a scene that's repeated several times), we see soup kitchens and a hospital emergency room that makes a Canadian one look like a wish-dream of efficiency.
If Boorman does slather on the social commentary a little heavy at times, he keeps a fairly steady tension level going -- with a maybe-too-neat little existential ending as a cherry on top.
The Tiger's Tale is an intelligent, solidly acted treatment of a premise that could have been as cheesy as Irish cheddar.
(This film is rated 14-A)
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