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Keep the 'Piece'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 22, 2000


    'An Everlasting Piece' Barry McEvoy, Brian F. O'Byrne and Laurence Kinlan in "An Everlasting Piece."
(Brian Hamill/DreamWorks)
Barry Levinson has it down when it comes to improvisational banter among working-class characters. If you haven't seen any of his Baltimore-based films, you owe it to yourself to catch "Diner," "Tin Men" and "Liberty Heights."

The Levinson touch gets a thick Irish accent in "An Everlasting Piece," a comedy set in Belfast during the turbulent 1980s. Written by Barry McEvoy, who also co-stars, the movie finds charming humor in a world full of sectarian strife between Protestant and Catholic. And this may be the first movie to portray IRA activists as lovable goofballs who are desperate for a little more hair on the top.

Colm (McEvoy) is a Catholic. George (Brian F. O'Byrne) is a Protestant. Both are great pals and fellow barbers. They're not exactly making money. So when they hear that the deranged owner (Billy Connolly) of a toupee company has been jailed (for impulsively scalping people), they figure they can assume his corner of the market.

After persuading the imprisoned scalper to cough up his client list, they start their new business ("The Piece People") full of hope. But their dream is stalled by news of another company, called Toupee or not Toupee. If Colm and George want an exclusive franchise from their English suppliers (Wigs of Wimbledon), they're going to have to sell more pieces than their rivals. They have until midnight on Christmas Eve.

This being Northern Ireland, their mission is rife with political problems. Their Catholic clients aren't thrilled to buy from a partnership that includes a Protestant; and their Protestant customers are similarly resistant to the Catholic in the mix.

Colm and George are forced to lie about their faiths, according to the situation. And then there's the product itself. The hairpieces come from real Dutch Protestant hair, they tell the Protestants. And they assure their Catholic buyers these pieces were cut from the heads of Catholic nuns.

Matters come to a head, so to speak, when an IRA leader gives them a large order, which would put them over the top in the sales competition. George (a proud Protestant) and Colm's girlfriend, Bronagh (Anna Friel), both think it would be immoral to sell to a partisan political organization. But Colm prefers to focus on the money they stand to make out of the deal.

Although the movie buys somewhat into the long-held premise that the Irish are lovable cartoon characters, "An Everlasting Piece" has an authentic undertone. (McEvoy based much of his screenplay on war stories from his father, a real Irish barber who now cuts hair in Washington.) While Colm and George ply their fledgling trade, IRA soldiers and English troops in riot gear menacingly roam the town. And the graffiti-splashed walls, squalor and shots of unemployed men attest to Belfast's gritty realities. This intense backdrop gets welcome relief when a man in a ski mask stops the barbers in the middle of nowhere, demanding to know what they're doing in his territory. As soon as he learns about their toupees, he doffs his mask and tries on a sample. A united Ireland is one thing. But a good, affordable hairpiece? Now there's a reachable goal.

"An Everlasting Piece" (R, 109 minutes) – Contains obscenity, profanity and a drunk, nude lad on a settee.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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