Even the lighter moments in this dark Irish drama are tinged with sadness, including a scene in which a tormented mother and son escape through dancing together ... to the strains of Soft Cell's Tainted Love. But the film is anchored by such a solid performance by Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction) that it's definitely worth a look.
Reynor plays John, a young guy in Dublin working extra shifts as a cab driver to support his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette) and his younger brother Kit (Harry Nagle), who has been institutionalised with Down's Syndrome and is never visited by his mum, not even on his 18th birthday. But then she's too busy drinking herself into serious illness. John's only support comes from his best pal Sean (Will Poulter), who has problems of his own as his ex (Maria Carlton) is demanding cash to support their young child. When Sean opts to move abroad to find work, John decides to get his mother into rehab, consulting a counsellor (Michael Smiley) who tells him that she will require a lot more than the one week the state can provide.
Things take a bizarre turn from here that isn't very clearly defined, but then writer-director Gerard Barrett isn't interested in explaining all of the details, mainly because he's telling the story from John's frazzled perspective. John lives through all of this a moment at a time, so the past is irrelevant, he seeks brief moments of joy wherever he can find them, and he just gets on with the job at hand, however freaky it may be. Through all of this, Barrett keeps things intense and unsettling, never quite letting the audience get its balance. This bold approach makes us feel almost as overwhelmed as John does.
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While this comedy-drama is sometimes wilfully absurd, it's also exhilarating cinema, telling its story with conflicting amounts of warm emotion and prickly abrasiveness. Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) is known for keeping his audience on its toes, shifting moods and navigating sharp plot turns. And while it takes a while to get into the rhythms of this movie, it ultimately wins us over entirely.
Loosely based on the true story of English musician Chris Sievey (aka Frank Sidebottom), the film centres on the art-punk band Soronprfbs, which is fronted by Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a gigantic papier-mache head both on and off stage. While touring in Britain, he recruits the nerdy aspiring musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) to join the band for a gig in Ireland and then stick around to write and record the next album. This means that Jon must figure out how to relate to the bandmates, all of whom seem to have serious issues. Frank's girlfriend is the freaky noisemaker Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and there's also hapless manager Don (Scoot McNairy) and opinionated but aloof musicians Baraque and Nana (Francois Civil and Carla Azar).
Abrahamson lets the film play out in the same utterly bonkers style as Soronprfbs' chaotic songs: veering from subtle harmony to soaring emotion to pure chaos. And through it all there's a remarkably resonant centre as we take this journey alongside Jon, who is played by Gleeson like the obnoxious little brother we can't help but love. Meanwhile, Fassbender delivers a remarkably soulful performance from within that big head, using his voice and body to add layers of intriguing depth. And Gyllenhaal continually surprises by undermining her intensely scary character with unexpected expressions of raw feeling.
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Not only is this Irish drama sharply well written and directed, but it also features a jaw-dropping breakout performance by young Irish actor Jack Reynor. He's already been snapped up by Hollywood (Michael Bay has cast him in Transformers 4), but it's well worth having a look at his sensitive work in this haunting film.
Reynor is the eponymous Richard, an 18-year-old golden boy who charms everyone he meets. He's the natural leader of his local rugby team, attends university in his spare time and has a loyal gang of pals around him. Then one night he attends a house party with his new girlfriend (Murphy) and his closest pals (Drea and Walton), and a drunken confrontation turns ugly. What happens next is so sudden that it takes a couple of days for the ramifications to emerge, and Richard's life starts falling apart around him. He turns to his father (Mikkelsen) for help, but realises it's up to him to do the right thing. If he can.
The film is loosely based on a real event, and Campbell's script never over-writes the story, letting the situation develop in earthy, honest ways that focus on character interaction and introspection rather than big melodramatic clashes. And Abrahamson's astute direction makes it impossible to watch this film passively: we are thrown right into the situation along with Richard, forced to grapple with moral issues that seem very simple on the surface but ripple out in unexpected ways as the situation brings out aspects of his personality that he has always suppressed in order to live up to expectations.
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Riseborough gives her best-yet performance as Colette, a young IRA operative who visits London in 1993 and is arrested by MI5 agent Mac (Owen). He offers her a terrible deal she can't refuse: if she wants to avoid prison to raise her son, she'll have to return to Belfast and spy on her mother (Brennan) and activist brothers (Gillen and Gleeson). But when she gets home, she discovers that the IRA boss (Wilmot) knows there's a spy in their midst. Is he talking about her? Or is there another one? And Mac is also a bit nervous when his boss (Anderson) starts acting suspicious.
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