Orphan bonds with alcoholic in tragicomic mish-mash

Orphan bonds with alcoholic in tragicomic mish-mash Pat Shortt stars in The Belly of the Whale.
 the Whale


He dresses like a homeless person. He grunts as if he’s just climbed a mountain. His face bears the scars of 101 bad dawns.

Yes, it’s Pat Shortt giving us the flipside of his comic persona in yet another of those down-at-heel roles that have become disarmingly familiar for him in recent years.

He plays Ronald Tanner, a recovering alcoholic. He’s just spent his life’s savings on a thousand teddy bears. He’s been told he can make a tidy profit on them to pay for medical treatment for his wife. She has a bad heart.

This is untrue. Nobody wants the teddies. Ronald goes back on the bottle to drown his sorrows.

Then his camper van gets burned down at a caravan park. It’s an accident caused by wild child Joey Moody (Lewis McDougall). Moody has run away from his foster parents to try and make a go of the park.

His father owned it. We’re led to believe he killed his father, Playboy of the Western World style. But then it’s suggested he committed suicide. Which is it?

Moody speaks with a Scottish accent. Isn’t he supposed to be Irish?

What’s going on?

I’m not sure writer-director Morgan Bushe, whose debut this is, could tell us. Neither does he properly explain how Ronald goes from wanting to strangle Moody to becoming a surrogate father to him as the pair of them try to make some much-needed cash by robbing a grimy amusement arcade presided over by Gits Hegarty (Michael Smiley)

It’s all a bit of a mess.  Unable to make up its mind if it’s a comedy, a drama or a bonding parable, it gives us a penn’orth of allsorts in a bid to serve up a melange of Martin McDonagh and the Coen Brothers.


We’ve been here too many times before. Bushe doesn’t add enough new things to the mix to intrigue. It’s the kind of film Neil Jordan might have made round about the time of The Miracle – or Quentin Tarantino anytime.

Shortt gives such a subdued performance it almost disappears into itself. Under-reacting – be it to the burning of the caravan or the death of a wife – is fine but when you play it too mutedly you lose the emotion altogether.

There are a lot of stock types in the film: the cartoon criminals, the sleazy politician, the lost souls involved in an unlikely communion.

As matters head towards the predictably violent climax it’s hard to care. What you’re watching is a trope unfold. You can almost mouth the dialogue before the characters do.

The wafer-thin plot needed more grit to prevent the downbeat hues becoming tiresome.

But it captures the out-of-season milieu well. And the sight of Shortt in a supermarket trolley plonked in front of a motorcycle on the way to a heist is almost worth the price of admission alone. Bonnie & Clyde eat your heart out.