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Michael Fassbender as "Frank" with Domhnall Gleeson: Kerry men (and honorary ones) are taking over the global box office.

The genius of Michael Fassbender’s “Frank”

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Michael Fassbender as "Frank" with Domhnall Gleeson: Kerry men (and honorary ones) are taking over the global box office.

Michael Fassbender recently starred in the latest X-Men blockbuster, and Domhnall Gleeson is about to take Star Wars to Kerry’s Skellig Michael, so you could say Kerry men (and honorary ones) are taking over the global box office.

But the thing that’s different about Irish A-List talent is their unbreakable fidelity to home and their determination never to become insufferable Hollywood big shots.

Fassbender still visits Kerry and enjoys his parents’ cooking (they used to run a restaurant in Killarney). Gleeson has the shadow of his famous dad Brendan to keep him in check, and even former bad boys like Colin Farrell have seen the point of regular Dublin trips. Irish superstars are just different -- they don’t believe their own press.

That’s why Fassbender and Gleeson’s turn in Frank, the brilliantly weird new movie by Irish auteur Lenny Abrahamson, reminds us that no matter how big they get they’re still quirky Irish boys who know how to banter.

The Irish have a famously high threshold for eccentricity, but even by our standards Frank is a peculiar movie. In it Gleeson plays the would-be keyboardist Jon, who finds himself in a new band when the previous keyboardist has a nervous breakdown.

Soon Jon soon meets the enigmatic leader of the band, Frank (Fassbender), a musical genius who wears a huge fake head all the time. Frank, we learn, doesn’t want to be Michael Jackson, he doesn’t want to be Justin Timberlake, he doesn’t even want to be popular – which, it must be said, is a weird standpoint for the leader of a pop band.

Although at heart it’s a comedy Frank nevertheless explores the nature of creativity, including what makes something authentic and how to avoid the soullessness that infects so much contemporary art. Along the way we learn that Jon has ambition but no talent and has found himself in a band with massive talent but no ambition.

What anchors the film is Fassbender’s remarkable performance, which occurs mostly underneath a giant papier-mâché head. “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth,” wrote Oscar Wilde.

The mask Fassbender wears in Frank allows him to explore ideas and themes that are usually off limits to world-renowned stars. That’s the attraction of the role and this incomparable new film.

Frank opens in limited release on August 15.

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