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There is definitely something shocking about watching a major Hollywood heartthrob punch a woman in the face. To witness it on screen, however, is slightly more palatable than, say, seeing it happen at a corner table at Spago.

            That sock to the puss, along with a U2 song that's about 25 years old at this point (insert lament about age here), kick off Intermission, a labyrinthine and slightly misogynistic dark comedy/crime caper that features the cream of the Irish acting crop as well as some talented peers from across the Irish Sea.

            The distractingly blue-eyed Cillian Murphy (best known from the sleeper hit 28 Days Later) heads the cast as John, whose breakup with girlfriend Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald) provides the film with its title and sets its chain of events into motion. Deirdre has taken up with her married manager at the bank, which leads small-time thug Lehiff (Colin Farrell) to believe that John would have no qualms channeling his bitterness into a heist.

            Orbiting around these circumstances are John's friend Oscar (David Wilmot), who is busy looking for love or a reasonable fascimile thereof; Deirdre's sister Sally (Shirley Henderson), wrestling with serious self-esteem issues after a particularly... um... vile breakup; and Jerry (ColmMeaney), a cop hot on Lehiff's trail when he's not angling to be the subject of a gritty documentary.

            First-time director John Crowley and first-time screenwriter Mark O'Rowe allow their huge cast (54 speaking parts!) moments to shine, especially Henderson (watch for her in the upcoming Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself), Irish film standby Meaney, and the volatile Farrell.

            The handheld digital-video work adds to the working-class sensibility, and it occasionally takes a couple of beats to comprehend the thick accents --- like those of Murphy and Farrell, who can do an impeccable American accent but must have put the Irish on 11 for this one. I certainly didn't have any trouble understanding Murphy's romantic little speech at the end, which left me swooning and suspecting that this movie might actually be a love story.

            The ladies sure have it rough here. Besides the opening haymaker, there's a woman who is as violent when she's beating the stuffing out of someone as when she's having sex, another female character who winds up clutching her nose as blood spurts out between her fingers, and poor Sally is saddled with indignity after indignity, including a much-talked-about mustache, though her mother is kind enough to point out, "You're hardly in the Burt Reynolds league."

            Now, I don't have a problem with violence in films, and, being that movies are actually make-believe, I don't particularly care who the violence is against as long as it helps tell the story. But I do wonder whether the filmmakers could benefit from some therapy to explore possible anger issues regarding women.

            Oh, keep an eye out for In America's youngest daughter, Emma Bolger, eating an ice cream cone at the beginning. And keep an ear out for Farrell's not-too-painful rendition of "I Fought the Law" over the closing credits.

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