Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by: Charity Bishop
In Ireland during the 1800's the lower-class population suffered at the hands of their landlords. Forced to slave away at the land to make a minor profit, many sought retribution against the wealthier estates. On one small parish farm, Joseph Donnelly (Tom Cruise) and his brothers dream of independence and freedom. Their father is a champion amongst the locals for his outspoken nature and one day is badly wounded in town while encouraging a mob to attack a landowner. He's brought home barely clinging to life with a made-up story of victory on his lips.
Joseph, he says, is an odd sort not meant for life here. Then he dies. Angry not only that his father was killed, but also because their landowner's overseer has burned down their house for not paying the rent, Joseph sets out to kill Daniel Christie (Robert Prosky). He journeys halfway across Ireland only to wander into the pub Christie frequents and discover he's a beloved man among his local tenants. Following him home, Joseph can't work up the nerve to shoot him. Instead he spends the night in the barn and is discovered by Christie's modern-thinking daughter Shannon (Nichole Kidman). After she stabs him in the leg with a pitchfork, he's taken into the Christie home to be repaired so "he can hear his neck crack" at the hangman's noose. Shannon is being courted by the same man who burned down Joseph's home, Stephen (Thomas Gibson) but longs for independence. She's learned in America they're giving away land for free and wants to journey away from Ireland and her pretentious mother (Barbara Babcock). A woman cannot travel alone safely, and so she persuades Joseph to go with her.
But Boston isn't as friendly as it looked. The streets are full of tramps, prostitutes, pickpockets, and con artists. Irish aren't welcomed in the new world and are often given the lowest-paying, hardest jobs in the shabbiest factories. While Shannon plucks chickens and gives up her wages by insulting the overseer, Joseph dreams of making money quicker. He finds his niche prize-fighting for a local hustler (Colm Meaney). Naturally the sparks fly between the two hot-tempered Irish immigrants pretending to be brother and sister. The story is actually a good one, but would have been much better with less messing around. There are tantalizing little tidbits of naughtiness throughout. If it were all in one place, the movie would be recommended but unfortunately most of it is crude and threaded throughout the middle section of the story.
For example, Shannon's mother puts an upside-down bowl over Joseph's private parts while mending his leg. Her curiosity overcomes her and Shannon lifts it while her mother's not looking. The audience isn't given a look, just disturbing implications; and several shots of Tom Cruise mostly nude. They both have the nasty habit of trying to spy on each other while sharing the same room in a run-down brothel. Shannon peeks at his crack while he's getting dressed. He catches glimpses of her bare back and the side of her breast through a torn curtain. Prostitutes and dance hall girls show a lot of cleavage. They're forced to listen one night to activity going on in the next room. Shannon makes up her mind to earn money fast and becomes a dance hall girl, but Joseph refuses to let her continue. Joseph daydreams about unbuttoning Shannon's shirt and kissing her. There are vulgar references to sex several times (including the English version of the f-word), as well as some appalling language.
Anatomical references, profanity, and at least four abuses of Jesus' name pepper the dialogue. Violence consists primarily of boxing matches, which are long and drug out. We see people slammed, punched, kicked, and knocked to the ground, sometimes in slow motion. Blood spurts on the floor from busted jaws and broken noses. Joseph is beat nearly to a pulp for losing his concentration in one match. In a race for property, wagons overturn, a few people are shot, and a man's head is beat against a rock when his horse falls on him. There's also an out of body experience where a character seemingly dies, then returns to his body because he doesn't want to leave the person he loves behind. The storyline is intriguing but also moves slowly in the first half. It could have been an excellent film but is ruined by foul language and sexually suggestive remarks. It's not a horrible movie, but not worth watching more than once... and only if you can take some coarse dialogue.
I was the least pleased with their common lack of decency in respecting one another's privacy. For a "good little" Protestant girl and Catholic boy, they do a lot of peeping. It's played out to be sexy and humorous but instead just comes across as offensive and vulgar. It's a lovely movie to look at and the charisma between two former lovers keeps the momentum going, but in many ways its also predictable.