When Jordan shows us JFK on the tube at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, or shots of A-bomb explosions, he's not really positioning us to recognize the dawn of the atomic age -- or the TV age (though that's implicit in what he shows us). He's after something loamier: By observing a trio of the town's Irish Catholic women huddled in front of JFK's image on the TV screen, we're participating in the adoration of a new saint. Kennedy has passed beyond pop icon into the realm of Catholic icon.

Jordan has the rich wit to make the religious iconography in this movie rapturously funny. The scenes between Francie and Our Lady are both incandescently beautiful and a goof. (She has an unaccountably foul mouth.) Jordan directs like a lapsed Irish Catholic who still relishes the savories of religious fervor. It's in his bones. His passion is more with the sinners than the saints. Maybe that's why Francie, with all his unheeding vitality, is the star of the show. He's the worst of the lot, yet given his life force, he's also the best. This kid can reach the ecstatic faster than the truly devout. It's a great cosmic joke.

The Butcher Boy.
Directed by Neil Jordan. Written by Jordan and Patrick McCabe, based on McCabe's novel. Starring Eamonn Owens, Alan Boyle, Stephen Rea, and Fiona Shaw.

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