Straight Outta Darndale – Conor Dowling joins the gang and takes a look at Mark O’Connor’s Cardboard Gangsters, which premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
In all the years I’ve been to the Galway Film Fleadh, I have never seen a screening with more buzz about it than this year’s premiere of Mark O’Connor’s latest film Cardboard Gangsters. From the pre-party in the Roisin Dubh to the massive queue outside the town hall, filled with eager viewers anticipating the world premiere of the film, to the palpable atmosphere and buzz of the audience during the film, this screening was clearly the biggest spectacle of the festival this year.
John Connors plays Jay Connolly, a part-time DJ and low-level drug dealer in Darndale, an area victimized by gangs, drugs and social problems. When his welfare is cut off he decides it’s time to enter the big leagues with his gang, in order to help settle his family’s debts. His actions attract the attention of the local drug kingpin Derra Murphy, who rules Darndale with an iron fist and has no problems eliminating any potential rivals.
Jay knows he’s playing a dangerous game and struggles to balance his family’s debts, his pregnant girlfriend and the small drug empire he and his gang of childhood friends begin to build. Events spiral out of control when Jay becomes involved with Derra’s wife, and his gang are thrust in harm’s way. Jay is left with a momentous choice to be made: to exact revenge, or turn the other cheek.
Reminiscent of the beloved hood movies of the ’90s – Boyz in The Hood, Menace II Society and a little bit of Friday – this modern-day cautionary tale of small-time drug dealers flying too close to the sun kept the audience hooked for its duration. John Connors, a working-class hero as it were, has proven himself again as a co-writer and a leading man with moments both intense and tender in his portrayal of the Darndale dealer. However, an awkward sex scene midway through the film may have shown us a side of Connors and his character we could have done without. The main body of the story takes inspiration from Connors’ own experiences growing up, and even some of the film’s more bizarre moments, such as a chainsaw attack, stabbings and someone being tortured with an angle grinder hold some basis in reality. Connors’ engaging performance is a clear result of his personal connection to the material under guidance from an experienced director.
It wouldn’t be a Mark O’Connor film without some inclusion of celebrated Northside troubadour Damien Dempsey. Dempsey not only appears in a small speaking role in the film, but his song “Serious” provides the soundtrack for a stunning and stylish music sequence during a memorable drug-dealing montage, one of the best musical sequences I have seen in a film in a long time. To add to the authenticity of the film, the entire soundtrack features Irish artists with many of the rap artists from Darndale where the film is set. The sound of modern Irish rap and dance music really nails the tone of the film and stood out as a clear highlight of the film.
Produced by Stalker Films and Five Knight Films in association with Filmbase, Cardboard Gangsters boasts an ensemble cast featuring co-writer John Connors (Love/Hate), Toni O’Rourke (What Richard Did), Kierston Wareing (Eastenders), Fionn Walton (Get Up And Go), Jimmy Smallhorn (Clean Break), Fionna Hewitt-Twamley (Red Rock), Gemma-Leah Deveraux (Stitches), Graham Earley (Monged), to name but a few. Fionn Walton’s explosive performance as Dano, hot-headed best friend of John Connors, hit all the marks and delighted audiences every time he appeared on screen. Walton’s portrayal of the Northside petty criminal stole the show with an intense performance that kept the audience on the edge of their seats and cracked people up with moments of skilled comedic delivery. Fionn is one to watch.
The energetic pace of the story is maintained by slick cinematography from Michael Lavelle (Patrick’s Day). Many choreographed one-take shots were executed skilfully which complemented the style and energy of the film. This colourful visual portrayal of Dublin crime is a welcome contribution to Irish cinema and brings a strong element of fun to this film.
Though the film shines a light on the crime of the Northside area, at times it is difficult to distinguish whether or not this story glorifies the good life to be had as a drug dealer or sincerely warns of the repercussions of the lifestyle. The accents, hair styles, clothes and music portrayed in the film were spot on and anyone who has grown up in similar areas will attest to the authenticity of the portrayal of this world.
The film is due for cinema release in October and based on the audience reaction in Galway, I highly recommend seeing this exciting film with a crowd. It is sure to appeal to a large audience in Ireland and abroad and I look forward to what all involved will show us next.
Cardboard Gangsters screened on Saturday, 9th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.