Patrick “Kitten” Braden (Cillian Murphy) tells us his story in thirty-six chapters. Born in an Irish village, he was abandoned on the parish priest’s (Liam Neeson) doorstep as a baby, he realises his difference from other boys from the outset. When he grows up, he goes to early 70s London in search of his real mother.
Based on the Booker-shortlisted novel by Patrick McCabe, and adapted by the author and Neil Jordan, Breakfast on Pluto is the journey of an innocent through several years of Irish and British history. That innocent is Kitten, a drag queen determined to live life on his own terms. Breakfast on Pluto are his adventures, both funny and tragic, occasionally fantastical. Occasionally harsh reality intrudes: his lover, middle-aged rocker Billy Hatchet (Gavin Friday) runs guns for the IRA, and Kitten is suspected after a bomb blast.
McCabe and Jordan had worked together before, in the 1997 film The Butcher Boy (shamefully not yet released on DVD as I write this). That remains one of Jordan’s best films, centered on a striking performance from fourteen-year-old Eamonn Owens (who has a small role in this new film). Breakfast on Pluto once again takes us inside the head of an outsider. But while The Butcher Boy’s Francie Brady would end the film committing murder, Kitten is in search for love. And what kind of love that might be, is immaterial – Kitten’s sexuality is never an issue – as long as it is a genuine love.
There are plenty of attractive things about Breakfast on Pluto. With a narrative structure more akin to the picaresque than to the usual three-act Hollywood formula, Jordan and McCabe manage a fine command of tone, changing from comedy to pathos to tragedy and back again without losing control of the material. There are some nicely surreal touches, such as the gossipy (subtitled) robins which begin and end the film. There’s a fine sense of period as well, with only a few slip-ups. (Modern-design trains for one, also Kitten posing as a researcher for “British Telecom”, a company that didn’t exist until 1984.) The soundtrack is a well-chosen selection of contemporary hits, from the Rubettes’ “Sugar Baby Love”, via Sweet, T Rex to “The Wombling Song”. Declan Quinn’s camerawork helps considerably to convey the film’s many changes of mood, and there’s a strong supporting cast, in mostly small roles.
On the other hand, the film is certainly overlong at two hours plus and there’s a sense that Jordan is treading water a little by returning to the themes and subject matter of past successes, not just The Butcher Boy but The Crying Game as well. Ultimately, its success will depend on your reaction to the central character. That’s nothing to do with homophobia (though anyone so afflicted will not last five minutes) but more to do with your reaction to a character whose innocence seems at times wilful naivete and who dismisses any disturbance to the world of his own that he lives in with “serious, serious, why does everything have to be serious?” There’s no doubting that Cillian Murphy gives a finely-detailed performance that’s deserving of all its plaudits, but it’s in the service of a character who you may feel needs a good slap.
Breakfast in Pluto is a co-production between Sony Pictures Classics and Pathe. The DVD reviewed here is Sony’s American release, which is NTSC-format and encoded for Regions 1 and 4. There are twenty-eight chapter stops.
Mastered in high definition, Breakfast on Pluto’s DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The transfer is virtually flawless, the only drawback I could see being a shimmering on some blinds early on. Otherwise, colours are true – much as they were when I saw this film in the cinema earlier this year – blacks are solid and the picture is sharp and detailed even at low light levels.
The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1. The surrounds are used for the music and occasional directional effects, but this is mostly a dialogue-driven piece and the dialogue is clear enough. If you have difficulty with the Irish accents, there are (yellow) subtitle options in four languages including English. Even if no subtitles are selected, they still appear to translate the robins’ dialogue. Apart from the bass lines of the various songs on the soundtrack, the subwoofer contributes to two explosions at key points in the film.
The main extra is a commentary from Neil Jordan and Cillian Murphy. Jordan tends to do most of the talking, with interjections here and there from Murphy. That’s not a problem as Jordan has proven himself on past commentaries well worth listening to, and he is here. “Behind the Scenes on Breakfast on Pluto” (8:57) is more like EPK material, featuring interview snippets with Jordan, producer Alan Moloney, Murphy (interviewed on set in Kitten drag), Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson, costume designer Eimer ni Mhaoldomhnaigh and Gavin Friday, interspersed with backstage footage and some extracts from the film. This featurette is in 4:3, with the film clips letterboxed. Finally, there are trailers for several other Sony DVDs - 3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Art School Confidential, Caché, Why We Fight, Capote, The White Countess, Thumbsucker, Junebug, The Passenger, Memoirs of a Geisha, London, The Dying Gaul, The Squid and the Whale, The Tenants. – but not for Breakfast on Pluto itself.
Breakfast on Pluto is an ambitious though flawed film that takes a few risks but is Eup to most of the challenges it sets itself. It’s further evidence that Neil Jordan is a much more consistently interesting director when working on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. I doubt that a Special Edition is on its way anytime soon, but this one is good enough, with fine picture and with an interesting commentary.