Irish playwright Conor McPherson's first script resulted in I Went Down, a convoluted but splutteringly funny gangster pic boasting both a dynamic double-act in Brendan Gleeson and Peter McDonald plus some blithe, salty dialogue that fused the profound with the profane. Reuniting its leads and sticking to his trademark pluck-of-the-Irish dialogue, hopes for his directorial debut were understandably high.

Featuring mini-yarns split into day-of-the-week chapters, Saltwater's fractured narrative invites comparisons with Short Cuts and Smoke. But while the acting would match both, the film just can't sew up all its many strands.

Given McPherson's ear for earthy dialogue, Saltwater's ace card is in the cuss-ridden patter. When the cast wrap their gobs around throwaway vernacular gems like "Why are you looking at me like I gingerly slipped a wasp up your crack?", the movie comes alive. A good job too, because McPhersonclearly doesn't share the same keen interest in the visual lingo of cinema - the boxed, prosaic, very telly framing screams small screen.

It does have its moments: a youth disco that's more like something out of Assault On Precinct 13, a klutzy get-away from a blundering robbery and a spectacular puke scene that gets a 9.4 for velocity and 9.8 for style. Great as they are, there's still a sense that that's all they are - gutsy punchlines rattling against an otherwise lugubrious mood. And that's where Saltwater falls down - as it keeps shifting tone, it loses rhythm.

Whether it all adds up depends on your reaction to a finale that's either charmingly ambiguous or frustratingly slack. Maybe McPherson's nudging that - hey - that's the changeable weather we call life, but it's still a vague and cloudy piece that works better as a series of impressionistic scenes rather than a coherent whole.


McPherson's directorial debut unravels like a smalltown Short Cuts, only to drift into disjointed drama. Admittedly, some bright snapshots have a ripe, ribald impact, but otherwise this is slight stuff laced with an oddly calculated ambiguity.

Film Details

  • 15
  • UK Theatrical Release Date: January 5th 2001

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