The Irish accent seems to be a difficult one to master for actors. It appears easy to creep into parody rather than sticking to the reality. More Leprechaun than Day Lewis. Otherwise quality actors begin to sound like they are doing the voiceover for a bad US television advertisement. It can get pretty embarrassing:
Julia Roberts – Michael Collins
Despite its many, many historical inaccuracies, the most annoying thing about Michael Collins is Julia Roberts. Her irritating presence pervades the film, her awfulness almost defines it. Even when she is not on screen the audience is waiting for her and her accent to return. The film’s use of Irish and British actors for the other primary roles meant that the accents in Michael Collins are tolerable, bordering on the accurate. The one exception is Julia Roberts.
Using the superstar Roberts as love-triangle-interest Kitty Kiernan probably seemed like a coup and a boon to the international marketing of the film. And in many ways, it was. Nowhere else outside of Ireland would the accent be remarked upon. She sounded Irish to an international audience, and that is what ultimately mattered. This does not take away from the fact that it is cringe-inducing in its awfulness. Factually awful. This short exchange with Collins sums up her catastrophic attempts at the accent concisely.
For other US Actresses parachuted into Irish movies, see the ridiculous Kate Hudson attempt at an Irish accent in About Adam.
Brad Pitt – The Devil’s Own
There are many fundamental problems with The Devil’s Own. The plan to casually sail the Atlantic with a small boat full of bombs for terrorist purposes is logistically questionable. The handling of the Northern Ireland Troubles is simplistic at best, even for a Hollywood thriller. The content of the film got Princess Diana into hot water. And then, there is Brad Pitt. More specifically, Brad Pitt’s attempt at a Northern Irish accent.
Pitt plays Frankie Maguire, an IRA man who has come to New York to purchase missiles from some dodgy characters for use against the British Army back home.
There isn’t too much YouTube footage available on The Devil’s Own. I suppose there isn’t a huge public demand for an average mid-Nineties Harrison Ford movie online. There is this climactic scene that showcases Pitt’s attempt at a Belfast inflection, but watching the whole film is the only way to really see its poorness in full form. Maguire’s love interest is played by Natascha McElhone (more on her later) and the NYPD cop he lives with is played by Ford. Obviously Brad Pitt has gone on to do well for himself, but this attempt at an Irish accent will not be in his acting highlights reel.
Sean Connery – The Untouchables
Sean Connery adheres to the cinematic rule that no matter how big the actor, the Irish accent can be their downfall. In The Untouchables, the watchable Kevin Costner prohibition/Al Capone romp, Connery veers wildly from sounding exactly like Sean Connery in real life to a bizarre Irish-tinted accent, often in the same scene.
Playing the old, grizzled Chicago cop Jimmy Malone, Connery does a reasonable job as the mentor to Costner’s young and dynamic Elliot Ness. Accuracy with an Irish accent is obviously not a criteria for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences though, as he won the 1987 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Perhaps it is churlish then to criticize his performance, but if you’re Irish it is the first thing you will pick up on and a potential character-ruining factor.
Joe Viterelli - Shallow Hal
Why is Shallow Hal included in a list of otherwise semi-respected movies? Why, among Oscar winners, nominees and high-calibre directors, would you include a Jack Black / Farrelly Brothers collaboration? Well, one reason. It contains the worst Irish accent in film history. This isn’t really up for debate. Any right-minded person will attest to this on witnessing the performance of Joe Viterelli as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character’s dad.
Unfortunately, there is no footage available of it online. Despite the character playing a not inconsiderable role in the movie, it seems to have been purged from the internet. Probably as a public safety initiative by some kind person. It really is that bad. Joe Viterelli usually played a secondary mobster character in films like Mickey Blue Eyes and Analyze This. Mainly because he looked exactly like an Italian-American Mafia man. Given this fact, there is no sane reason to make his character Irish. There are no gags based around it, nor plot necessities for it. Just the worst Irish accent you have ever heard. Good move.
Natascha McElhone – Ronin
Just one year after Natascha McElhone played a Belfast girl in The Devil’s Own, she was back in another IRA-related role in Ronin. Despite having a year to improve her Northern Irish accent, it arguably got worse – as seen in this exchange with Robert De Niro. “Ayye.”
McElhone is Deirdre, the IRA operative who has assembled a crack team to steal a mysterious briefcase. As seen in the trailer, her accent is quite difficult to handle whilst also trying to take the movie and the mission seriously. Either way, the film descends into a series of enjoyable car chases by the end. Perhaps breaking the record for the ratio of car chases to dialogue in cinema history. If I had to estimate it, I would say there is one car chase for every ten lines of dialogue in Ronin. A high-density car chase feature film. I digress, and return to the point of why Ronin is on this list – the Deirdre character and her inexcusable Belfast lilt.
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