April 2011: Ordinary Decent Criminal

by March 31, 2011

Ordinary Decent Criminal is a 1999 crime comedy loosely based on the life of Irish crime boss, Martin Cahill. It follows the Cahill-esque figure of Michael Lynch played by Kevin Spacey. Lynch is intelligent, way head of the game and has everything he wants. He’s loyal to his allies and has a family and two women who adore him. He commits robberies often just to prove he can and often succeeds. He’s seen as an idol and the general public love him. So why is Lynch such an unlikeable character?


The character is supposed to more ego than man. However, you find yourself wondering whether it’s to glorify Michael Lynch or Kevin Spacey. In theory, this film should be great: Spacey as the lead and it’s from the school of ‘cool and edgy’ crime dramas. Yet it completely falls flat of the type of films it’s trying to emulate, such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels released just one year before. Spacey comes off as intensely unlikeable and you struggle to root for him because you know that he’ll be fine. He faces no conflict because it’s made quite clear that it’s a scrape he won’t just get out of, he’ll get out with enough time for a cuppa. Every other character that isn’t Lynch seems to have been written purely as props to make Lynch look good. The police and Interpol are stupid, fellow gangs miss the mark, even his friends and allies barely get a look in. Quite simply, everyone and everything that isn’t Lynch plays second fiddle. Possible points of interest such as the curious relationship between Lynch, his wife Christine and her sister Lisa are only used in the most predictable way possible i.e. simply there to prove that all the ladies love him and very little more than that. Unfortunately Christoph Waltz’s character is just one of many potentially interesting characters, or more accurately, plot devices, that ends up completely wasted as a result.


Lynch steals a Caravaggio painting from a Dublin gallery, attempts to get valued and eventually sold on. That’s where Waltz comes in. He plays a Dutch art valuer called Peter who Lynch invites to Ireland to see if the painting is indeed real. But Peter had taken some precautions and was wearing a wire. Naturally Lynch knows about this and gets one over on him. Unfortunately Waltz’s scenes in this film can probably be added up to the grand total of just under two minutes, if that. A character that could have been used further to greater effect if Thaddeus O’Sullivan wasn’t so intent on getting the audience to believe Michael Lynch is as savvy as they come. Waltz’ performance was fine albeit rather forgettable. He does his best with the little material he’s given as the naïve and soon to be very nervous Peter but even so, he seems a little awkward and something’s not quite right about it. Although I’d largely blame the script itself for that and the breakneck speed it goes at trying to rush through the meeting of Peter, the discovery of the wire, the valuation and Peter’s punishment. Talking of which, his final scene is quite comical, intentionally so. But at this stage, you may be too frustrated with the way the film is going that you’ll forget to laugh.


This is an English language film so it’s easily accessible for any Waltz fan who isn’t a German speaker, dodgy faux-Irish accents aside. However, don’t expect too much of the role. Essentially you will be waiting for just under two minutes in a ninety minute film. Unfortunately those eighty eight other minutes don’t make for particularly enjoyable viewing. It’s probably only good for a once-off watch but nothing more.


As a film, it’s mediocre. It’s not terrible and at times, it can be slightly amusing. But it’s not nearly as cool nor as funny as it wants to be. While this was one of Waltz’ biggest Hollywood films pre-IB, it’s no wonder he wasn’t noticed way back in ’99 in this. You could barely see anyone past Spacey’s ego.


Christoph Waltz Fans