Half-an-hour in and it's difficult to know what to make of The Butcher Boy. On the one hand, you know you should probably like it. Stephen Rea doesn't play an IRA terrorist (a refreshing change); director Jordan paints an alluring picture of small-town Ireland in the '60s; the two young actors - - Eamonn Owens and Alan Boyle - - have an enormous screen presence; while a gaggle of TV irregulars, including Sean Hughes and Ardal O'Hanlon, pop up in bit parts. Come on... how can you fail to like a film where Sinéad O'Connor plays the Virgin Mary?
Yet, although it's deliciously-shot and slowly spins out an oddball script, The Butcher Boy continually yanks your emotions between `like' and `hate'. The focus for this confusion is 12-year-old Francie Brady. One minute he's a likable brat, acting out cowboy fantasies, fishing in babbling brooks and worrying about nuclear bombs. The next, he's a brutal, teasing, unstoppable murderer, a boy who ruthlessly taunts his neighbour Mrs Nugent (Shaw) to breaking point. He's a child with a morality bypass, the son of a drunk father (Rea) and a mother who's a cake-baking, suicidal loony (O'Sullivan). Fuelled by a melodramatic vitality and overflowing with hatred and violence, he's difficult to like. So if there's a problem with The Butcher Boy, it has to be this.
Narrated by Rea, Jordan's curious, sluggish film tries your patience as it dawdles to an astonishing, explosive end. But behind its drab title hides a bizarre, hallucinogenic tale of normality disrupted.