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Taffin
(1988)

Director: Francis Megahy
Cast:
Pierce Brosnan, Ray McAnally, Alison Doody


It's been a long time since I last did it, so I think it's time that I did it again. It's an issue that really gets my goat, and I know it gets the goat of many of my fellow countrymen. And that issue is Canadian films. I am quite frankly ashamed about how unwatchable the majority of movies that are funded by the Canadian government. In fact, they are downright terrible, and make me wonder just what audience the filmmakers thought they were making the movie for. What is really sad is how so many Canadian filmmakers think that the fault of one Canadian film failing at the box office after another is not the films themselves. Every so often I read about a Canadian filmmaker feeling that it's the fault of those darn theater chains, that the theaters are simply refusing to exhibit these so-called wonderful Canadian films. The filmmakers inevitably feel that a quota system imposed on the theater chains would immediately fill theaters with Canadian films and ordinary Canadians would fall over themselves rushing to theaters. But that's a delusion. If you look over the years, there have been a significant number of Canadian movies that have gotten a release in Canada as wide as Hollywood product here. The reason these particular Canadian movies got a wide release is that their distributors did the work and spent the money necessary to secure a wide release. They thought the movies had commercial potential, so they put in the time and money. The fact is, as I've said earlier, is that the majority of Canadian movies are not commercial, and wouldn't attract an audience even with a wide release and a multi-million dollar ad campaign. Even if a quota system were to be imposed, the distributors would not lift even a finger towards giving the majority of Canadian movies a wide release, because they would still feel that they would lose money in the end by spending money on an expensive marketing campaign.

Sometimes I do wish that there was a quota system, so that the Canadian distributors would still barely release Canadian films, and as a result embarrass the filmmakers who make these loser movies. Anyway, what could be done to improve the Canadian feature film industry? Well, there are a number of things that could be done (like bringing back a tax shelter system, albeit with adjustments to prevent abuse), but I think the main thing that Canadian filmmakers could do would be to look at Hollywood product and get inspiration from it. I know that last remark probably has many Canadian filmmakers shrieking, protesting that I am supposedly saying we should make our movies "American". That's not what I'm saying at all. What I am saying is first look at the genres that Hollywood regularly tackles and finds an audience for all over the world. Action... comedy... horror... science fiction... audiences all over the world love genre movies a lot more than dull and boring art movies. After doing that, the filmmakers should then see if they can find their own spin on a Hollywood convention. Look at Hong Kong, for example. They make tough cop movies just like Hollywood does. But a Hong Kong tough cop movie manages to be a lot different than a Hollywood tough cop movie, yet at the same time manages to speak to its local audience - and has also managed to find fans in many other countries around the world. Another example can be found in Japan. Like Hollywood, Japan makes animated movies. But Japanese animated movies are much different than Hollywood animated movies, speaking to its local audience while also finding fans in other countries around the world. If Canadian filmmakers were to tackle more popular genres, while finding their own (popular) spin on them, I am convinced that Canadian distributors would be a lot more receptive to widely releasing Canadian movies.

One born-in-America film genre that has inspired filmmakers from other countries to make their own spins is the western. The most obvious example is with the Italians. True, their westerns were set in the Wild West era of America and Mexico like American westerns, but they were all Taffinthe same much different from American westerns, from their musical scores to their direction. Other filmmakers from other countries have also put their own spin on the western. Not that long ago, I found a British movie that had a really unusual spin on a standard Hollywood western formula that had me intrigued. That movie was Taffin. It interested me because not only was the movie set in Ireland - which is a country you certainly don't associate with action movies - it was also set in modern times. But while the place and time may be different, I said that the core formula is all the same a very familiar western tale. The events of Taffin take place in the fictional Irish town of Ballymoran. One of the residents of Ballymoran is a man by the name of Mark Taffin (Brosnan, Seraphim Falls). Taffin makes a living as a debt collector, and while he is normally not a violent man despite his work, he knows how to be tough enough to get what he wants if peaceable efforts fail. But recently, certain events in his town have resulted in the local townspeople calling for him to be tough. Sprawley Enterprises, a corrupt business syndicate, has managed to convince by illegal means the local town council into giving them permission to build a chemical plant in the area. Most of the townspeople are upset by this plan, but any attempt by them to protest or try and stop the chemical plant construction is quickly quashed by goons hired by the business syndicate, goons that won't hesitate to use violence. So the townspeople turn to Taffin for help, which he agrees to do. But Taffin has no idea of just how far Sprawley Enterprises will go to get what they want, enough that even he may not be able to defeat them.

Even if you haven't seen more than your fair share of westerns as I have, no doubt you can see the western elements buried in that plot description. The business syndicate can be seen as a ruthless rancher or railroad company trying to seize all power in the area, and the character of Mark Taffin can be seen as the one gunslinger in the area deciding to take on the head bad guys and their goons all by himself. And if you were to come up with several guesses as to what major plot turns happen during the ninety-six minutes the movie runs, no doubt some of your guesses would be correct. But the question that should be asked is not how familiar the basic plot is, but whether the movie manages to put enough spins on the material to make it fresh and worth sitting through again. Well, the movie does manage in a few ways to throw off the expectations of the viewer. It probably goes without saying that the Irish backdrop makes the movie look different than what we have seen in westerns or even other pseudo-westerns before. I've never been to Ireland or seen that many movies filmed in Ireland, so the backdrop of the small Irish village as well as the surrounding countryside always made sure that the movie had a least a kernel of interest to me at any point. How about when it comes to the story portion of the movie - does the movie make any significant twists to the familiar plot? Well, towards the end of the movie, the movie does switch things around slightly. Usually in this kind of story, the townspeople eventually turn against the gunslinger, and the gunslinger finds he has to work alone for the remaining portion of the movie to defeat the villain. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) However, screenwriter David Ambrose (D.A.R.Y.L.) switches this around. Taffin manages to drive off the villains much earlier in the movie than expected, and shortly afterwards the townspeople turn against him, leaving him alone when a new challenge comes in.

Apart from that scripted twist, as well as the modern Irish setting, Taffin sticks pretty closely to the classic formula. With very little rewriting, the setting of the story could easily be anywhere else in the world. Although I admit that I like this core formula enough to have watched it many times before, I have to admit that I was kind of disappointed the screenplay didn't put in a few more fresh twists. I was also disappointed with the screenplay for other reasons as well. For one thing, a number of the characters in the movie are underwhelming. Mark Taffin has a brother (played by Patrick Bergin) as well as a mother living in town, but both relatives are so underused that one has to wonder why they are in the movie in the first place. There is also a love interest for our hero (played by Alison Doody of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade), but she too seems kind of pointless except to (very) briefly show a little skin in one scene. As for Sprawley (played by Alan Stanford), the chief bad guy behind the whole mess, he only makes a few brief appearances that give him no time to make him enough of a figure of hate to the audience. That leaves the title character, Mark Taffin. Fortunately, some care was made to make this character an interesting one. Taffin is not a completely likable character. He's ruthless, he's seen calling a reluctant townsperson a coward, and he initially does not want to get involved with helping the townspeople get rid of the chemical plant. ("The town needs jobs," he states.) Still, compared to Sprawley's goons, who inflict great harm to various townspeople, he comes off pretty good by comparison. He may be brutal at times, but he does try at first to drive off Sprawley by non-violent means, showing a lot of smarts in the process. He is also smart enough to know that he tells the townspeople pleading for his help that he knows they will eventually turn on him. The movie leaves it up to the audience to figure out why he does eventually decide to help. There are enough interesting quirks with this character that I'm sure many viewers will come up with a number of theories.

As Mark Taffin, Pierce Brosnan does a pretty good job for the most part in the role. Sometimes his Irish accent gets thick enough that it's somewhat hard to understand what he's saying, though he's not by far the only actor in the movie with this flaw. Brosnan gives his character a slight weariness and familiarity with his various surroundings (violent and non violent) that you believe that Taffin has lived in Ballymoran for ages and seen it all. He also does put enough credibility in when his character gets really tough. Though you may think by that statement as well as the movie's chosen formula to follow means there are a lot of action sequences, there actually aren't. The action is very sporadic in coming, and when it does come, it usually goes by extremely quickly. There is far more talk than action, not surprising since this is a British production, and British cinema, with a few exceptions like James Bond, has traditionally been more about talking than action. Still, there is more often than not a feeling of genuine toughness with the little action that there is in the movie. Director Francis Megahy (Red Sun Rising) also manages to generate some real atmosphere elsewhere in the movie; you really feel the small town Irish environment, from its unpredictable weather to its old and crumbling buildings. He also manages to keep the story, predictable as it is, moving at a reasonable pace, though he does eventually lose his way with the climatic sequence, which comes across as kind of lame and unsatisfying. It's just one of the ways that Taffin is far from the best execution of the western formula that's out there. But on the other hand, it's also some distance from the worst that the same formula has inspired. The best way to sum up the movie is that the more you like the elements advertised by the movie - Brosnan, British cinema, the western formula, etc. - the more likely you will find the movie enjoyable enough to be worth your time.

(Posted February 4, 2018)

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See also: If You Meet Sartana, A Small Town In Texas, The Stranger

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