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The Actors

***
2003

‘…even if it falls short in some departments, Moran and Caine make for an engaging duo..’

Dylan Moran is a very funny comedian who went further than most into the difficult, dangerous game of cinema. Having shown he could carry a series with Black Books, Moran seemed a cert for big screen stardom; a walk-on in Notting Hill as a suspicious bookshop customer seemed to promise bigger things. 2003’s The Actors is probably the most substantial offering from him to date; while it didn’t propel Moran to any lofty heights, it’s not the worst either, an actual comedy with a comedic performance at its centre.

Based on a story by Neil Jordan, and written and directed by Conor McPherson, The Actors has quite a lofty pedigree for a very silly and assuredly lightweight film. Two hard-up actors, Tom Quirk (Moran) and Tony O’Malley (Michael Caine) are struggling to make ends meet while performing in a poorly attended revival of Shakespeare’s Richard III in Dublin. O’Malley has information about a gangster debt that could be exploited to make some pin money; after his house burns down, Quirk agrees to be the middle-man between a gangster called Magnani and Barreller (Michael Gambon). Quirk invents one character to meet with Barreller, but falling for his daughter Dolores (Lena Headey) only complicates matters, and soon Quirk and O’Malley have a difficult job remembering just who they’re impersonating…

Moran’s comedy is largely based on a low-key, high-intensity comic persona he’s honed over decades; it’s something of a surprise to see him going down the full Peter Sellers extrovert route of playing several different characters, even if they are Quirk’s own inventions. These scenes, in which false teeth and mistimed explosives make it hard for Quirk to maintain his pretence, are actually pretty funny, even if the whole story becomes decidedly shaggy dog before the end. Caine is good value as ever, sending up theatrical luvies while also retaining an edge; his appearance in drag ties neatly into his role on DePalma’s on Dressed to Kill.

The Actors was poorly received at the time; critics rarely seem to agree on what makes for a good comedy, and despite a top cast, McPherson’s film was run out of town on a rail. But there’s nothing wrong with a few good laughs, and even if it falls short in some departments, Moran and Caine make for an engaging duo.

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  1. I was hoping that Blacks Books would get Moran off the ground, but one movie doesn’t really count and has he done anything since? I don’t have access to UK stuff so it can be hard to tell.

    Headey on the other hand seems to have had quite the varied career. From tv shows such as White Collar and the Sarah Connor Chronicles to movies like this or the latest Judge Dredd.

    • Moran still plays to large and packed houses. This film is far more extrovert than his usual approach, and isn’t as sharp as Black Books. But worth a look if you like his persona.

      Headey has done pretty well, very reliable performer.

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