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Taffin (1988)


Oh wow. I saw Ray McAnally’s name in the credits, this film made during his late, gruff years of power and threat. Grrr, old Jack thought. It’ll be full of grrr. 

And it kind of is. It’s a Pierce Brosnan vehicle, from his disappointed years. Remington Steele fucked him about in its dying days and the promise of James Bond was whipped away. So he made lots and lots of other stuff. Bread. Table. You can feel it. 

In this, he plays out the anger whilst tolerating his own eye-candiness to the women of the world. He goes home to Ireland and plays a bit of a shit. With heart: Taffin (1988).

It’s like a bad-tempered episode of Bergerac (get thee to YouTube, non-British readers… Bergerac was a decade-long detective drama on the island of Jersey, Bergerac an ex alcoholic copper with a feel for puffy jackets and uncomfortable displays of manly upper-chest. Old Mrs Jack adored him). Anyway: different island, same directing sensibility, and meet Mark Taffin. He’s a ne’er-do-well intellectual debt collector, who wanders his wee village with wee threats. Restaurants get trashed, cars bumped, fists thrown so the indebted pay up. Unlike Bergerac, however, it’s a simpler place for good and evil. Caricatured, I mean.

The plot: some big city bastard is funding some small town bastards to cajole small town councillor bastards into giving up land for a mighty factory of environmental evil. This pollution fogger to be built ten feet from the town of innocents, who’ll be needing the air for themselves. Boo. Hiss. Taffin wanders the town hating himself, whilst  sliding posingly into shots in rugged clothes and bouncy girl’s hair. Brosnan, as the magazine polls would soon be showing, is one of the most beautiful men in the world. Yeah. Sexism blows two ways. But this film can’t really take to a high horse on that one. Although he is helping the old.

Said elders: McAnally (what a long teenage that must have been) and his fellow crumblies can’t defeat the visiting corporate thugs, so they turn to their own. Really. That’s it for the old: a bunch of cowards who – late in the film – even turn coat on their flawed hero and get called out by Taffin’s also-beautiful lady friend. There’s a sweet scene before that, where McAnally’s long retired teacher visits Taffin and they negotiate intellectual disappointments. There’s hope for both in that moment, and only that moment.

And everything else is a load of old tosh. Filmed with the same zeal as the cheaper 1970s detective shows (Bergerac was class with cash), the film is flat as can be. Pedestrian shots of high streets, car parks, sea and fields, drag it to the floor. The dialogue is of the “you’re bad, get out of town” quality. And the characterisation is blundering. You can feel acting folk struggling to weave something tolerable out of raw cliché. And Brosnan – at lease at this barely-cooked stage of his career – is running so fast from the Remington Charm-o-Steeley stuff that he scowls solidly, and not sympathetically, for the whole enterprise. The story tries to cheer him up with said love interest, but he and Alison Doody (and their mighty hair) don’t stand a chance. Passion is shot at a distance. There’s an archaic real-man-plus-moll thing sapping any modernity from their relationship. And, when they row, she logics in a whiney way and he blows up louder than the corporate bullies. Misjudged and horrible.

Tell a lie. There is one moment, on a bench, where Doody out-acts her co-star and the script, while Brosnan stands over her, one foot on the bench, one set of lips ready to patronise her to silent with a forehead kiss. Hmmm.

Also worth mentioning, as old Jack found the level of incidental sexism both awkward and shaming (was that really my world of the ’80s…?), is the scene just before this emotional park bench. Really. Taffin is the target of the corporate thugs (who giggle) and they’re in a crammed pub. The scene should be tense and fearful. Instead, the Taffster sits in a crowd of men, the thugs stand in it, Doody serves drinks to it, and the camera stares sexlessly at a couple of strippers whose body parts sail in different directions to bad music and crassly angled shots. Oh God. It was 1988.

On the bright side… The old cars are mesmerising. Occasional bursts of violence entertain. Brosnan, soon to be Bond, and soon to gain credibility from actual acting, is oddly fascinating, but a fish out of classy. McAnally is casual in his heavy stillness, and heading for late-stage film success with My Left Foot and A Very British Coup. Alas, it was also a year before he died, so not the best of messages for the TV room. And Doody is also headed for better things and a working-life that surely gets past her appearance and is still going today. Here’s to Indiana Jones and a dash of evil.

So, the moral. The old can be cowards. And everyone else deserves something better from their careers.

Bring on the sequel.

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