Monday, January 12, 2009

Movie Monday 05: Taffin

It's currently snowing here in PA, something unexpected after the inch of ice we had over the weekend. I swear, I'm moving someplace warm someday where there is NEVER any winter. I can't stand the cold weather. Even with all this extra padding I have, I'm not built for it. So, that's enough of my griping. Let's get on with the review for this week, which is of 1987's Taffin starring Pierce Brosnan.


“Would you all mind not talking about me as if I wasn’t here?”
Pierce Brosnan as Mark Taffin, Taffin

One cold winter day some three years ago, I wandered into the zoo that has become the Super Wal-Mart in East York and saw their bargain bin movies by the front registers. Nobody was digging through them, so I took it upon myself to peruse the titles there, priced at 2 for $10. I didn’t find much that was worth writing home about, but one movie stood out--Francis Megahy’s Taffin, based on Lyndon Mallet’s novel of the same name. This independently produced film, released in 1987 under the MGM/United Artists banner, had a distinct European flavor to it that I simply fell in love with. And of course, there’s always Mister 007 himself, Pierce Brosnan. You can’t go wrong there.

In this vehicle, Brosnan plays the title character Mark Taffin, who lives in a small Irish town as a rugged debt collector. He’s a different brand of hero, though--if he feels that you can do the job yourself, then he won’t help you. If he feels you can do it, but don’t have the brains, he’ll tell you how to do it. And when all else fails, Taffin can totally kick your ass with his fighting skills. So when rumors begin to fly that the Sprawley Corporation plans to build a large chemical plant on the edge of town, the townspeople are looking for help...and lo and behold, who better to help out than Taffin?

If this sounds like one of Steven Seagal’s mid-90’s eco-thrillers to you, then you’re not even close. Brosnan’s character of Mark Taffin is a true man, who stands up for what he believes in (as he comments in one scene to his lover Charlotte, played by the striking Alison Doody, “This [the mind] is far more powerful than this [the fist] least, it used to be”). He is a dying breed of man, even back in 1987 when this was filmed, and that stood out to me above all else as the theme of this film.

As far as Brosnan’s performance is concerned, it’s spot-on, chap. A native Irishman, Taffin’s sounds and accent really come through, and his rugged charm could make a straight man like myself swing for the other team. But an actor is only as good as his script, and David Ambrose (who also wrote Year Of The Gun) assembled a great adaptation here that shows the diverse sides of Taffin’s Irish life.

There’s a discussion here about the morality of what Taffin does as well, displayed in arguments he has with his former seminary teacher Mister O’Rourke (Ray McAnally). One memorable quote that comes out of their first argument belongs to Taffin--“And you would rather bend the knee than stretch the mind.” This riveting piece of drama mid-way through the film shows not only the dynamics of the two characters, but the complexity of Taffin--a man who wants to believe in something bigger than himself, but after all he’s seen and done, finds something audacious in what some people would call an invisible support system.

The way Taffin goes about fighting the Sprawley Corporation is unique to the character as well--he enlists the help of his brother Mo (Patrick Bergin) and other friends to dig up incriminating secrets about Sprawley’s top executives, and uses these secrets to blackmail them into signing a document that, as one character puts it to Mister Sprawley himself, “could put both of us away for a long time.” But this act does not come without retaliation from Sprawley--this same executive and his wife get burned alive in their house, and the blame is put on Taffin, ruining his iron-clad reputation and discrediting him among the townspeople.

As for what Taffin does to win the day, I won’t say for fear of ruining the movie’s delicious ending, but in a refreshing change of pace, it doesn’t involve storming Sprawley’s high-rise tower with guns blazing and grenade launchers setting things aflame. If that’s what you’re expecting out of Taffin, then you might as well rent a Bruce Willis movie, because you’re in a completely different league.

The acting in this film, as I’ve previously mentioned, is sensational. Director Francis Megahy really knew what he was doing with the material, and it shows. Allison Doody is perhaps the most alluring Irish woman I’ve seen on film, even if she sometimes came off as a hopeless appendage to Taffin; Ray McAnally plays the duality of Mister O’Rourke to the hilt, since he is a seminary teacher who’s asking a sinful man to do sinful things to sinful people; and above all, there’s the balancing act that Pierce Brosnan had to play as Mark Taffin--showing that you were smart, cool, and collected, and genuinely hurt when even Mister O’Rourke turns his back on you.

There is one drawback to this film, however, especially with female viewers, and that’s the strip club scene that is so talked about. I viewed it as a piece of Irish culture, but then there’s the argument that Director Megahy was simply feeding a film director’s obsession to see a woman’s naked breasts. Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Starship Troopers) and Walter Hill (Red Heat, Last Man Standing) suffer from the same affliction, in case you haven’t noticed. So, what was the point of the scene? I really couldn’t tell you--you’ll have to decide that for yourself, but if there was one thing that detracts from this otherwise well-rounded film (God, that was a horrible pun), it’s the club scene.

If you’re looking for a film with a little European flavor that won’t let you down in terms of drama and quality acting, then look not further than Taffin. While it may not have dozens of explosions, car chases, or fight scenes, it’s a very riveting view of Mark Taffin’s journey for honor and respect--and that’s something we can all identify with.

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