At some indiscriminate point in the ’90s movie producers everywhere decided to simply stop caring about trying to get actors to do passable Irish accents. Can’t we try, begged writers and moviegoers and people from Ireland, at least try to make this sound accurate? We know it’s more appealing to have a major American beefcake rather than, say, an actual Irish guy playing the role of “actual Irish guy”, but can’t we spend the extra time/money to ensure this film won’t become a laughingstock in ten years, or five, or instantaneously? Please? Please?
We’ve charted a course backwards through movie time and discovered Far and Away to be one of the earliest and most egregious offenders. If not patient zero per se, Far and Away is effectively worse than the index case for presenting itself on the largest possible stage and thus spreading the Awful Irish Accent disease much more quickly. Prior to Far and Away a shitty accent was a shitty accent. After Far and Away, a shitty accent became a perfectly acceptable feature of a major blockbuster because Ron Howard and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman couldn’t be bothered to do better. Why should anyone else?
We don’t dare ascribe Kevin Spacey’s uneven attempts in 2000’s Ordinary Decent Criminal to Far and Away, nor do we posit that the Howard romance is at fault for Richard Gere in 1997’s The Jackal. In no way, shape, or form are the twin offenses of Julia Roberts c. 1996 in Michael Collins and Mary Reilly due to any sort of laziness that came from a certain film from a certain year four years prior. Yes, even the Leprechaun in 1993’s Leprechaun sounds like a moron, but we can’t possibly point to Tom Cruise as the root of this evil. It’s Far and Away, people! We’re supposed to be thinking about Barry Lyndon and Gone with the Wind and those other period romances, not Leprechaun.
And yet we do think of shitty accents instead of impossible loves, and so we do blame Far and Away. The fact that the rest of the film — accents aside — is borderline unwatchable means that we can blame it wholeheartedly. It’s far (and away) from Howard’s worst film (that’s The Dilemma), but it’s definitely got more Willow in its DNA than it should. The plot is just incredibly overdone, right down to the ancillary characters that pop up for no reason other than because of course they do. Rough-and-tumble farmboy flings with well-off daughter of sworn enemy — this we understand. This is the premise of a kamillion films. But a studly well-off rival suitor, complete with scenes of elders nodding in approval (“ooh, what a catch!“) and constant taunting of the rough-and-tumble hero? We’ve got at least one solid idea for something you could be watching instead…
…but back to the accents. Undoubtedly the three worst offenders in Hollywood history in this particular arena all occurred in a two-year span: Cruise for Far and Away, Brad Pitt for The Devil’s Own, and Tommy Lee Jones for Blown Away. Those latter two films are both ’94 releases, and, to reiterate, these aren’t simply “the worst Irish accents”. These are “the worst Irish accents asserted by major American actors in major American studio releases”, which makes them all the worse. Frankly, if we’re blind-judging accent alone, then Cruise’s attempt is a freaking revelation compared to those of Pitt and Jones. Pitt made up for his warbling blunder by sort of making fun of himself in Snatch, while Jones made up for his over-the-top-ness by putting the mere concept of “going over the top” to shame with his turn in Batman Forever. Let bygones be bygones, right?
Cruise, meanwhile, wisely made up for Far and Away by never playing a guy with an Irish accent again. There was probably also no small amount of consolation in the fact that he got to go home with Nicole Kidman at the end of the day.
And besides, if we are playing the blame game here, then isn’t it always the director who gets faulted for anything wrong with a film? Cruise is absolved! Howard: forty lashes! But the earlier question is whether we should play the blame game, whether we really even need to. Let’s face it: it’s 2016, and Far and Away‘s place in the cultural lexicon is about as prevalent as the title would suggest.
We took an optimistic look at Howard’s first feature Grand Theft Auto, acknowledging that the film’s flaws are forgivable because of Howard’s young age and relative inexperience. The real win, though, was the fact that Howard built his career by besting himself and building upon his own failures. In that regard, with Far and Away seeing Howard work with two of the biggest movie stars on the planet, maybe the silver lining lies in some kind of realization that Cruise + Kidman does not a good movie make. There’s no easy way to learn that lesson, probably. So Howard made a misstep with Far and Away, but given that really nothing in his future filmography would resemble the Euro-American romance perhaps it’s safe to say he learned his lesson. I mean, it’s safe to say it as long as you don’t say it in a fake Irish accent.