Cycle of Violence (1998)

a.k.a. Crossmaheart (1998)

D: Henry Herbett
S: Gerald Rooney, Maria Lennon

If the prospect of a Northern Irish film about the troubles seems an understandably daunting one, discovering the name of Colin Bateman attached to the project ought to give pause for a second thought. If it doesn't, you should note that Colin Bateman is Northern Ireland's literary equivalent to Quentin Tarantino: irreverent yet pointed, familiar with cliché and not afraid to employ it yet always capable of putting a new spin on something old. Cycle of Violence is the first film of one of his novels to be released (based upon his own screenplay), and will soon be followed by the eagerly-awaited Divorcing Jack. It is the first feature film shot entirely on location in Northern Ireland in twenty five years, and comes at the vanguard of a new wave of Northern Irish films (which started last year with the astonishing success of the amateur feature The Eliminator).

The film is concerned with the fate of young journalist Gerald Rooney, who, following an alcoholic bender after the death of his father, is given a less than choice assignment by his newspaper to work on a regional weekly in the tiny village of Crossmaheart. There, amid the usual sectarian tensions and balaclava-wearing bullies, he finds the troubled young Maria Lennon, who was in love with his predecessor, another young male journalist who has mysteriously vanished. Romance blossoms slowly, and all the while Rooney finds himself delving deeper into the mystery of what happened to the other man. It leads him in unexpected directions.

The great strength of Cycle of Violence is that it uses the Northern Irish situation as a springboard which takes the viewer into a familiar world with familiar frames of reference, then pulls the mat from under their feet by making the sectarian begrudgery a sort of reflective sideline to what becomes the main plot. Though there is an element of deus ex machina about the way the last half hour begins to challenge all our assumptions and some of the minor characters are sadly underdeveloped, the film on the whole succeeds. It pulls of the immensely difficult trick of making a black comedy out of material used to much more serious and heavy-handed treatment in Irish cinema from the North and South (The Boxer leaps to mind instantly). Not that it is frivolous or superficial, but it tends to shift the focus away from the introspective ramblings and mythic violence of many of its predecessors with an unexpected wit and a concern for human rather than political drama.

Admittedly, this disarming off-beatedness is probably likely to earn the film more praise than it really deserves. But it is an enjoyable and well handled yarn told with a concern for its audience. It never becomes truly black nor truly funny, but it has some dark moments and some amusing scenes. It tries hard for a unique tone not unlike that attempted by I Went Down, but it never really gets so different that it changes the way you look at Irish films (or, indeed, British independent films). But it does leave you feeling satisfied, despite one or two little niggles, and it is designed to do so. It is worth seeing and bodes well for the new voices from Northern Ireland. One hopes that they will not be silenced.

Note: Cycle of Violence received its world premiere at the 13th Dublin Film Festival, 6 March, 1998. It was retitled Crossmaheart for subsequent release.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.