"Whole Lotta Sole" - Oscar-winning Terry George’s celebration of Belfast and its characters
After intense dramas like Hotel Rwanda and In the Name of the Father, it’s a welcome surprise to see Irish director Terry George helming the lighthearted and thoroughly entertaining new comedy Whole Lotta Sole.
George, who won an Oscar this year for his comic short film The Shore, has made his career directing big budget drama about ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, and in that sense Whole Lotta Sole follows directly from his own tradition as a filmmaker.
Opening with bang in South Boston, we meet Joe Maguire (Brendan Fraser) as he’s running out on his psychotically angry wife, who we later discover is the daughter of an Irish Mafia capo with a strong resemblance to Whitey Bulger.
To escape her – and more importantly, to escape retaliation from her angry dad – Maguire decides to hole up in his cousin’s antique shop in Belfast, lying low until the heat wears off.
Not everyone thinks of Belfast first when they’re looking for peace and quiet, and sure enough no sooner does Maguire touch down but he finds himself being trailed by young Jimbo (Martin McCann). Then a sinister looking hood call Mad Dog Flynn (David O’Hara) turns up in his shop making thinly veiled threats and demanding payment and the roller coaster plot is set in motion.
We learn that poor Jimbo also owes Mad Dog money -- £5,000 to be exact -- and he has no honest way to raise it. It get worse when Mad Dog tells him if he doesn’t raise the money he’ll take Jimbo’s infant son in payment instead, to be raised by his own wife who’s childless and desperate to experience motherhood.
In his desperation Jimbo asks himself where do observant Catholics spend money on a Friday? The answer comes to him instantly -- in a fish market. Out he goes for an ancient IRA submachine gun still stashed in his friend’s grandfather’s house to rob the day’s takings.
What he doesn’t know is that the market is just the front for another one of Mad Dog illegal operations. Worse, Mad Dog’s mother holds the keys to the safe.
Piling on, it turns out there’s very little money in the stolen bag, but there’s plenty of incriminating evidence that Mad Dog will kill to retrieve.
All of these plot points are slowly revealed as Whole Lotta Sole introduces us to one of the main stars of the show -- the all new post-ceasefire, post-Good Friday Agreement buzzing Belfast. Gone are the British army patrols and the heavy atmosphere, in their place is a city filled with lively characters and lots of craic.
George’s ease and familiarity with the sights and sounds of Belfast rivals Roddy Doyle’s with Dublin in his Barrytown trilogy (George even cleverly casts Colm Meaney to underline the comparison), but there are much darker edges to Whole Lotta Sole that remind you that it’s the north, and that it’s a script co-written by George himself.
The real action takes place when Jim and his gorgeous new Ethiopian girlfriend Sophie (Yaya Da Costa) are held up in a dramatic siege in the antique shop by the desperate Jimbo, who’s running out of time and options.
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