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With: Ian Bannen, David Kelly , Fionnula Flanagan, Susan Lynch, James Nesbitt
Written by: Kirk Jones
Directed by: Kirk Jones
MPAA Rating: PG for nudity, language and thematic elements
Running Time: 91
Date: 09/15/1998

Waking Ned Devine (1998)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Lottery Barn

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Although it's nothing like Die Hard or Speed, with its subtle build-up toa wonderful finish, Waking Ned Devine may nevertheless have you holding yourbreath during its last 30 minutes.

This new film, written and directed by Kirk Jones, is a beautifully paced movie that takes place in the Scottish village of Tully More, population 52. (Most of the town is made up of old folks.) The pace is all the more striking when you take into consideration that Jones is an award winning maker of TV commercials. Normally, commercial makers don't have the patience for feature-film making, and their finished products arrive a mess of fast-cuts and explosions designed to cover up a shaky plot. But Waking Ned Devine is a wonderful, unhurried movie that brings us into its world slowly and completely.

I've described the movie as slow and suspenseful. It's certainly both, but it's also a comedy. The story begins as Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) brings his best friend Michael (David Kelly) the news that someone in town has won the Lottery. They immediately eliminate themselves and Jackie's wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan), leaving 49 possibilities. The trio set to work finding out who it is, and then getting on the winner's good side. Jackie throws a big dinner party for all the regular lottery players, and people begin to suspect that he is the actual winner. But one person hasn't shown up for the dinner: Ned Devine.

I shouldn't give away any more, even though I'm dying to. I'll say this. When the winning ticket does show up, the movie becomes a leapfrog match for Jackie, Michael, and Annie as they try to one-up the unusual circumstances that keep occurring.

Waking Ned Devine succeeds where movies like The Matchmaker and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain fail. The most important thing is the characters and the place. We get to know each of the important characters well before the prospect of money comes into their lives. We know what their values are. We get an idea of what the village is like, and what life in the village is like. We see the market and the pub. We see that everyone knows everyone else and that Jackie and Michael don't think twice about swimming naked in the ocean. We see a small romantic subplot in which the radiant Maggie (Susan Lynch), already with a child, is being courted by Pig Finn (James Nesbitt), a smelly pig farmer. After all that, the main plot comes in, and we can sit back and enjoy it.

As Annie, Ms. Flanagan represents the solid maturity that keeps Jackie and Michael semi-grounded. She's also what keeps the movie from flying off into pathos. It's a bit of a thankless role; she doesn't get to have any fun. But it's a key role, and Ms. Flanagan embodies it with wonderful grace and power.

Waking Ned Devine is a little movie that will find its audience on its own. No monster ad campaign could do it justice, though it could be the next Four Weddings and a Funeral or The Full Monty. I'll be the catalyst. You'll love Waking Ned Devine.

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