Savage (2009) Movie Review

Irish indie production “Savage” marks the debut of writer-director Brian Muldowney, and is basically a “Taxi Driver” style tale of urban ills and revenge, showing a distinctly non-tourist friendly side to the streets of Dublin. The film features Darren Healy (“Disco Pigs”, “Layer Cake”) in the lead, with support from Nora-Jane Noone (“The Day of the Triffids”, “The Descent”) and various nasty looking young thugs. Having enjoyed a measure of critical praise at festivals, the film now arrives on region 2 DVD via High Fliers Films, coming complete with commentary by and a Q&A session with Muldowney, plus cast auditions.

Healy stars as Dubliner Paul Graynor, a press photographer whose trade often brings him into contact with the worst of humanity. One night, walking home after a date with his elderly father’s care worker Michelle (Noone), the poor man is attacked by a couple of particularly vicious youths, who drag him into an alleyway and subject him to a violent assault. After waking up in hospital and learning the horrific nature of his injuries, he struggles to return to a normal life, tormented by awful memories and after-effects. Seeking ways to reaffirm his manhood, he gradually cracks up, taking the first steps down the dark road of vengeance and self-destruction.

In its favour, although the plot of “Savage” is straightforward and surprise-free, writer-director Muldowney does at least make a genuine effort to explore the psychological darkness behind the suffering of its protagonist and to confront head-on issues of masculinity and pride. Healy turns in a decent and convincing performance as the increasingly tortured Graynor, and his descent into brutality, though wholly unsurprising, is believable and is never played for simple “Death Wish” style thrills. In this respect the film does score a few points as a modern Irish “Taxi Driver”, painting a picture of a society in violent decline without offering any comforts or sugar coating of any kind. The film successfully plays upon urban fear, and attains a sense of grim realism that makes it both disturbing and depressing.

Sadly, despite all its earnestness and grit, the film never seems to know what it wants to be, and neither quite hangs together as social commentary cinema nor exploitation, mainly since it’s arguably not violent enough for its convictions. To be fair, there are a few unpleasant moments during its final act, though these scenes seem to have been included mainly for effect, and don’t fit well with the film’s more serious and brooding aspects. Similarly, whilst Muldowney generates a reasonable amount of tension, the film never manages to really create the kind of pressure cooker atmosphere which would have made it truly effective. Ironically, the film works best away from its instances of mild violence, and though Muldowney’s direction and script are a touch weak in places, his handling is far more confident when dealing with his characters than with action. As a result, the moments when the film does erupt into its promised savagery fall somewhat flat, and provide disappointingly scant payoff.

This is true of the film as a whole, and though fitfully engaging, “Savage” ultimately feels like it falls between the cracks, being too violent for the art house angst crowd and too clumsy and tempered for fans of revenge cinema. Muldowney does appear to be a film maker of some substance, and there is however enough here to suggest that he may be one worth keeping an eye on in the future.

Brendan Muldowney (director) / Brendan Muldowney (screenplay)
CAST: Darren Healy … Paul Graynor
Nora-Jane Noone … Michelle
Cathy Belton … Dr Cusack

Buy Savage on DVD