Ordinary Decent Criminal

Ireland/Germany/USA/UK 1999

Reviewed by Geoffrey Macnab


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Dublin, the present. The local authorities are unable to make charges stick against notorious thief Michael Lynch or his gang. They carry out a series of ever more outlandish heists, the most daring of which is the theft of a Caravaggio painting.

Ruthless police officer Noel Quigley begins to tail Lynch wherever he goes. Quigley and his officers harass Lynch, his wife Christine and Christine's sister Lisa (also Lynch's lover). Lynch's gang members begin to lose faith in him. Against his advice, they consider going into business with the IRA, to whom they hope to sell the stolen Caravaggio painting. They are ambushed by the police and several gang members.

Using this as a diversion, the IRA rob a bank on the other side of town. Lynch learns what is happening and gets to the bank where he and fellow gang member Tony Brady hold up the IRA thieves. The police lay siege to the building. Lynch is trapped inside with no way out. Finally, a man who looks like Lynch appears from the building and dies in a hail of bullets. Although the face is disfigured, Christine and Lisa identify the body as Lynch's.

It later turns out that the man killed was the IRA leader. Lynch himself is still at large.


Long before Michael Lynch removes his trousers to display his buttocks to the hapless policemen who have failed, yet again, to arrest him, the cracks begin to appear in Ordinary Decent Criminal. The casting is eccentric (Linda Fiorentino, the femme fatale from The Last Seduction, isn't an obvious choice as a Dublin housewife); there is some incongruously chirpy music from Damon Albarn; and Lynch himself, riding round town on an old motorbike, often looks as if he has just escaped from a Wallace and Gromit animated short. Partly based on Martin Cahill (the Dublin thief whose exploits inspired John Boorman's The General) Lynch comes across as a blue-collar version of Pierce Brosnan's Thomas Crown. As played by Kevin Spacey, he's a sleek, charismatic figure less interested in financial gain than in bamboozling the authorities. He even shares Crown's relish for stealing Old Masters and is narcissistic enough to see himself as a counterpart to the handsome thief portrayed in the Caravaggio he steals.

Director Thaddeus O' Sullivan never leaves us in any doubt that Lynch is cleverer than his antagonists, be they crude, violent IRA men or incompetent police chiefs like Commissioner Daly (played by Minder regular, Patrick Malahide). But O'Sullivan struggles to convince us of Lynch's credentials as a dedicated family man and contemporary Robin Hood. Whereas Brendan Gleeson (the star of The General) made his Cahill a hearty, gregarious latter-day MacHeath, Spacey's thief is colder, more Machiavellian and much more self-absorbed. He is not averse to using bullyboy tactics to scare judges or to torturing gang members he suspects of betraying him. Given the jaunty nature of the storytelling, these sudden flurries of violence are disconcerting - what seems like an Irish version of The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) one moment is liable to turn very nasty the next.

O'Sullivan's 1995 film Nothing Personal offered a handful of strongly drawn characters (Ian Hart's psychopath, James Frain's Loyalist terrorist, John Lynch's Catholic single father) and worked both as a thriller and as a study of a divided community. In contrast, Ordinary Decent Criminal hinges on a single performance - that of Spacey - and has little to tell us about the society to which Lynch belongs. Spacey's role seems to have been beefed up at the expense of everybody else. Fiorentino and Helen Baxendale (the two sisters who love and share him) aren't given any worthwhile scenes of their own. And it's little wonder Scottish actors Peter Mullan and David Hayman look so surly as Spacey steals scene after scene from under their noses.

Spacey himself may not be natural casting as an Irish folk hero, but he does bring his usual sly wit to the role, managing to make Lynch a dark and complex character. It's just a pity that the film-makers, like the police officers who follow Lynch all over town without coming close to catching him, sometimes seem so in awe of their lead actor that they forget about everything else.


Thaddeus O'Sullivan
Jonathan Cavendish
Gerard Stembridge
Director of Photography
Andrew Dunn
William Anderson
Production Designer
Tony Burrough
Music/Score Producer
Damon Albarn
©Unicorn Distributors Limited
Production Companies
Icon Entertainment International presents
a Little Bird production in association with Tatfilm and Trigger Street Productions
Produced in association with Miramax Films, Bord Scannán na héireann/The Irish Film Board, The Greenlight Fund, Filmstiftung NRW
Supported by The National Lottery through The Arts Council of England
Executive Producers
James Mitchell
Christine Ruppert
Icon Entertainment: Ralph Kamp
Paul Tucker
Bord Scannán na héireann:
Rod Stoneman
2nd Unit Producer
Lesley Cavendish
Martha O'Neill
Associate Producer
Margaret Moggan
Production Co-ordinator
Janette Hamill
Production Manager
Dara McClatchie
Location Managers
Andrew McCarthy
2nd Unit:
Naoise Barry
Liz Kenny
Location Co-ordinator
Rowena Kelly
Stephen Law
Polly Duval
2nd Unit Director
Ivan Zacharias
Assistant Directors
Deborah Saban
Marian Barlow
Olivia Lloyd
Ciara O'Sullivan
2nd Unit:
Liz Gill
David Cain
Script Supervisors
Emer Conroy
2nd Unit:
Catherine Morris
Casting Directors
Ros Hubbard
John Hubbard
Script Consultant
Maggie Pope
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Jan Velicky
Camera Operators
Mike Proudfoot
Keith Sewell
Steadicam Operator
Keith Sewell
Special Visual Effects
Mill Film
Digital Visual Effects Supervisor:
Karl Mooney
Digital Visual Effects Producer:
Paul Edwards
2D Digital Compositor:
Michael Illingworth
Digital Matte Paintings:
Simon Whicker
Visual Effects Editor:
John Seymour
Special Effects
Team FX
Brendan Byrne
Kevin Byrne
Pat Redmond
Oliver Byrne
Dermot Byrne
Kevin Kearns
Graphic Designer
Lisa Smyth
Associate Editor
Christine Marier
Art Director
Clodagh Conroy
Conor Dennison
Storyboard Artist
Romek Delimata
Costume Designer
Jane Robinson
Wardrobe Supervisor
Ger Scully
Chief Make-up Artist
Morna Ferguson
Chief Hairdresser
Lorraine Glynn
Designed by:
Created by:
Men in White Coats
General Screen Enterprises
Music Programmers
Tom Girling
Jason Cox
Orchestral Music Arrangers/Conductors
Darryl Kok
Hilary Skewes
Mike Smith
Music Supervisors
Toni Halliday
Michael Lustig
Music Editor
Terry Delsing
"Special Brew", "Come Together", "Film Ballad" by/performed by Damon Albarn; "EuroDisco" by Amanda McKinnon, Steve Clark, John Clark, performed by BIS; "Fire in My Heart" by Huw Bunford, Cian Ciaran, Dafydd Leuan, Guto Prycc, Gruff Rhys, performed by Super Furry Animals; "Gopher Mambo" by Billy May, Conrad Gozzo, performed by Yma Sumac; "I Want You" by Michael Head, performed by Shack; "Mother of Pearl" by/performed by Bryan Ferry; "Superfinger" by Magnus Uwe Box, Sarah Matthews, Jason Meherin, Paul Russell, performed by Lowfinger; "One Day at the Time" by Mari John Wilkin, Kris Kristofferson, performed by Gloria; "Just When I Needed You the Most" by Randy Vanwarmer, performed by Michael Lynch and Family; "Been Caught Stealing" by Eric Avery, Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins, performed by Jane's Addiction; "Carolan's Draught", "The Floating Crowbar/
The Story of Munster" (trad) arranged/
performed by Arty McGlynn; "O Salutaris Hostia" by Camille Saint-Saëns, performed by the choir of Trinity College Cambridge directed by Richard Marlow; "Bluer than the Blues" by Ray Davies
Sound Recording
Kieran Horgan
2nd Unit Sound Recordist
Karl Merren
Re-recording Mixer
Paul Carr
Supervising Sound Editor
Mike Wood
Dialogue Editor
Howard Halsall
Nigel Stone
Jason Swanscott
Diane Greaves
Felicity Cottrell
Jupiter Sen
Chief Stunt Co-ordinator
Patrick Condren
Stunt Driving Co-ordinator
Jim Dowdall
Joe Condren
Kevin Spacey
Michael Lynch
Linda Fiorentino
Christine Lynch
Peter Mullan
Stephen Dillane
Noel Quigley
Helen Baxendale
David Hayman
Tony Brady
Patrick Malahide
Commissioner Daly
Gerard McSorley
David Kelly
Father Grogan
Gary Lydon
Tom Rooney
Paul Ronan
Billy Lynch
Colin Farrell
Vincent Regan
Shay Kirby
Tim Loane
Jerome Higgins
Christoph Waltz
Bill Murphy
Tony Coleman
Barry Barnes
Anthony Brophy
Paul Roe
Paul Hickey
Tom Maguire
Joe Gallagher
dole office clerk
Herbert Knaup
De Heer
Alan Devlin
Lord Mayor
Jer O'Leary
Padraig Lynch
Hugh B. O'Brien
Flintan Doorley
Gerard Lee
desk sergeant
Conor Evans
Des Braiden
Conor Mullen
Enda Oates
Anne Cassin
news reporter
Dave Fanning
radio presenter
Ann O'Neill
country shopkeeper
Jonathan Shankey
man outside bank
Bronco McLoughlin
Mr Harmless
Angela McLoughlin
Mrs Harmless
Tamzin Shaw
Mrs Hippy
Ross Dungan
Tommy Lynch
Sarah Barrett
Breda Lynch
Alex Hayes
Shane Lynch
Darragh Mullen
Maeve de Blacam
Eva Barrett
Mary O'Driscoll
judge's daughter
Michael Hayes
judge's daughter's boyfriend
Rory Egan
Leonard Hayden
Brendan Morrisey
Sarah Pilkington
Mario Rosenstock
Icon Film Distribution
tbc feet
tbc minutes
Colour by
Technicolor, London
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011