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Breakfast on Pluto (2005)

A long, episodic film from Neil Jordan who reteams with writer Patrick McCabe (of The Butcher Boy) and touches base with several of his earlier works, casting Stephen Rea in a role that enables him to replay a crucial scene from The Crying Game without seeming such an idiot this time round ('I said a girl like you'). It shuffles between comical-tragical family drama as transvestite Patrick 'Kitten' Brady (Cillian Murphy) tries to sort out his life while searching for his real parents and footnotes about the history of 'the Troubles'. It's heavy on bizarre pop culture references, with crucial sequences that require an audience to remember Doctor Who (Kitten's Downs syndrome friend trundles around in a Dalek suit and later takes an army bomb-defusing machine for a real Dalek - charging tragically into an explosion shouting 'exterminate') and The Wombles (a spell in a Wimbledon Common theme park, with Brendan Gleeson as a particularly violent Womble) and have a chill of recognition from gloriously ghastly bits of pop music (a highlight is Kitten's Squaw act in a live onstage rendition of the Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazlewood classic 'Sand').

It may be that even at 129 minutes, it doesn't have the space to consider some things – the story veers between the affectingly credible and wildly unlikely, and some things get skipped over without making any sense (you'd think Kitten's best friends might react to a bombing in which he is nearly killed and then blamed for the outrage by becoming disenchanted with the tactics of the IRA but they don't) even as other ridiculous plot twists (like the way the copper who brutalises Kitten becomes a weird parent figure) somehow feel right. The subtitled CGI robins that open and close the film are a twittering annoyance, encouraging a tweeness which extends to the virtual non-existence of Kitten's actual sex life – but whole scenes work amazingly well.

There are excellent supporting performances from Liam Neeson (a priest who turns out less evil than we think he will), Ian Hart (the annoyed policeman), Rea (a fey conjurer who uses Kitten in a truly unpleasant nightclub act), Bryan Ferry (overdoing the nastiness in a thin moustache as a trick you just know will turn violent), Ruth Negga (the best friend whose mixed race status really ought to be remarked upon by someone in the film – in the period in Ireland, it's inconceivable that it wouldn't come up every minute), Gavin Friday (a bisexual Republican glam rocker whose backing-band might wear make-up but glare aghast hatred as he cavorts with a tranny), Liam Cunningham (a philosophical biker who brings in the meaningless title) and Eve Birthistle (Kitten's Mitzi Gaynor lookalike mother).

First published in this form here.

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