Stephen Porzio takes a look at the Maurice O’Carroll’s crime comedy, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
A unique feature of Irish drama, separating it from the rest of the world, is its humour. J.M Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Samuel Beckett’s absurdist theatre and the McDonagh brothers output – all are tinged with comedy. As a people, we tend to find the hilarity in dark situations. Even the recent thriller Traders, a satire of recession Ireland centring upon men who beat each other to death for large bags of money, possessed a strain of jet-black wit. Writer-director Maurice O’Carroll’s debut feature Dead Along the Way (made for a reported €10,000), although much, much slighter than the works mentioned above, is too flecked with shades of dark comedy.
The film, featuring a jumbled timeline, opens with two murders. In the past, gangster Big Jim (Tom Lawlor) has killed the twenty-nine-year-old who may have impregnated his sixteen-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, in the present, amateur videographers, Wacker (Niall Murphy) and Tony (Ciaran Bermingham, Game of Thrones), accidentally kill Big Jim, from whom Wacker borrowed money to pay for his girlfriend Aoife’s artificial insemination. The two men in order to survive must dodge Aoife (Donna Patrice, Raw), an over-zealous Ban-Garda (Sinead O’Riordan) and dump the gangster’s body.
I mention the role of comedy in Irish drama because Dead Along the Way plays out like a less interesting Martin McDonagh play (particularly one from his Leenane Trilogy, all revolving around violent deaths in quiet country towns). Maurice O’Carroll’s script is occasionally quite witty but is missing the darkness, the underlying themes or the interesting supporting characters that populate the similarly plotted work of McDonagh. Also, by aping the Irish playwright, by extension he apes one of his major influences, Quentin Tarantino. In Dead Along the Way, Tarantino’s trademark trunk shot is utilised various times for long scenes of dialogue, as is the juggling time-line of Pulp Fiction. As well as this, a torture scene in which Big Jim arrives dressed as Olivia Newton John (he was at a costume party) plays out like a toothless homage to Reservoir Dogs’ infamous ear-cutting scene in its contrast between humour and horror.
Also, the film looks quite bland, no doubt on account of its budget. However, there have been movies in the past that have looked gorgeous, made for less than €10,000 (El Mariachi, Following, Primer to name a few). O’Carroll too often falls into a pattern of “establishing shot, still camera as a character walks, side camera when two characters are in conversation, close-up, repeat” creating a rather repetitive feel.
However, although, there is nothing original or particularly deep in Dead Along in Way, there is a rough-around-the-edges charm to the movie. The main cast look as if they are giving it there all, despite working with limited resources. Niall Murphy (according to IMDB this is his first TV or movie credit) is a likeable protagonist, with the charismatic everyman feel of Colin Farrell. He and Bermingham possess a genial odd-couple chemistry, adding some emotional heft to a well-handled subplot regarding Tony’s closeted homosexuality. While the characters on Big Jim’s side of the story are crudely drawn and their performances leave a lot to be desired, Donna Patrice shines as Wacker’s long suffering girlfriend. In lesser hands, she could have been an unfunny straight-woman to Wacker and Tony’s antics, but Patrice adds a live-wire and chaotic flavour to the film’s already farcical final act.
Maurice O’Carroll has talents as a writer and mines fine performances from his leads. These attributes are enough to cautiously recommend his debut feature. Dead Along the Way is a quirky uniquely Irish crime-comedy which hints O’Carroll may produce better work in the future, with a larger budget.
Dead Along the Way screened on Wednesday, 6th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.