DIR/WRI: Mark O’Conner • PRO: Jeffrey Chernov, Ori Marmur, Neal H. Moritz • ED: Frank Reid • DOP: David Grennan • CAST: Peter Coonan, Dan Hyland, Stephen Jones, Damien Dempsey
Between the Canals is the best Irish film I have seen in a long, long time. It is a wonderful fusion of that special Irish humour, heart and the harsh reality of the criminal underbelly of Dublin’s inner city. It is set over one St. Patrick’s Day between the Royal and the Grand canals. It centres on three male friends, in particular one young man, Liam (Hyland) who must make a decision on his future and cannot afford to procrastinate in the cut-throat underbelly drug scene in Dublin or else he will be swallowed up in it. He is torn between being a victim of circumstance and everything he has ever known as a small-time drug dealer and making a decision to better himself by doing an electrician course and to start to break away from his current environment, in order to have a healthy future for his family. At the focal point of this, is his involvement in the drug dealing trade. Following the gangland death of his beloved uncle, he realises that as long as he is part of the scene his life and the lives of those he loves are constantly under threat of death and assault.
What differentiates Liam from his friends is the fact that he is the only one attached, having a girlfriend and a son and he is also the endearing, reserved one of the trio. The other two men are highly likeable and have plenty of humourous dialogue; ‘Dots’ (Coonan) is zany and erratic, with a tendency towards illegal activity and the only thing he strives for is to become a big-time dealer and Scratchcard (Jones) is a drug user who has no desire to even look for work. Liam has a perspective that the other two cannot fully comprehend, he can foresee only turmoil in the future while the other two live and act on primal instinct and male antagonism as a coping mechanism and fuelled with revenge without weighing the consequences. However by the end of the film, we see the impact this particular St. Patrick’s Day has had on all of them. There were some fine acting performances from the three promising young male leads, who portray a highly credible friendship and the script is very sharp. The violence in the film highlighted the threatening milieu of the world Liam is caught in and although certain scenes were difficult to take in, it was not too excessive. There is one stark scene, involving a shooting in a pub that powerfully exhibits the urgency and necessity that Liam starts to escape from his current realities.
What I find pleasant about this film, is how it depicts the friendship between the three young men. There is a beautiful sequence without dialogue of the three young men hanging out by the canals drinking cans, messing around, with the addictive Irish folk soundtrack in the background. There is a poignant innocent tone, as we witness three young men who although are caught up in a whirlwind mess of violence and the drugs trade; are just young men who don’t know any different, their lives completely devoid of decent role models, trying to get through a day. Also, the usage of scenes of the three young men interacting with little local lads, already getting into trouble reminds us of the despondency of their situation as young people of this community and the need for Liam to get his son out so he can protect him from that life. The day goes on, teeming with a concoction of mischief, fun and frolics, ruthless violence and assault, misfortune and a vivacious Nigerian drug user who made me cry with laughter. This fusion offers a well-rounded, benevolent, emotive and compelling insight into a distinct urban reality of our contemporary fair city.
The film is impressively constructed and I suspect as a debut for Mark O’Connor, it should receive significant recognition. Showing exclusively at the IFI, with its premiere as part of the 2011 St. Patrick’s Festival, this is not to be missed.
IFCO website for details)
Between the Canals is released on 18th March 2011