Hugh Whelan was in town for Paddy Slattery’s crime thriller Broken Law, which premiered at the Dublin International Film Festival.

Set in Dublin, Broken Law is a compelling tale of two brothers divided by their family history. When ex-convict Joe Connolly (Graham Earley) gets into trouble following his release from prison, his brother Dave (Tristan Heanue) risks his respected career in the Gardaí in order to save his life. Dave’s rigid definition of right and wrong is put to the test as he becomes entangled in his brother’s lawless actions, while simultaneously coming closer to unearthing the truth about his father’s complicated past.

Written and directed by Paddy Slattery, Broken Law offers a refreshing taking on the often predictable “cop film” narrative. Propelled by a constantly shifting balance of power, the fraternal relationship between Dave and Joe at the centre of the film is dynamic and well-constructed. On the surface, Dave appears to be the classic straight-edge, protective older brother, while Joe is the rebellious, down-and-out sibling who needs his help. However, Slattery constructs each character to have their own flaws, vices, and traumas that combine to create a complex and engaging dynamic between the brothers. 

Despite their differences, Dave and Joe are united by the shared difficulties they face. When Joe leaves prison, he is effectively rendered homeless, and he quickly falls into old habits with his dangerous former associate Wallace (John Connors). Meanwhile, Dave suffers as he is forced to work overtime when threatened by eviction due to his skyrocketing rent. Slattery utilises current events such as the housing crisis and Garda corruption to drive, but never overwhelm, the film’s narrative. As the film’s title suggests, Broken Law takes the fractured and corrupt aspects of the Gardaí to task. Far from offering a reductive condemnation of the Gardaí, Slattery demonstrates an understanding of the nuance required when depicting such a complex subject on-screen. The result is a rich and compelling film that successfully articulates the frustrations and pitfalls of life in contemporary Ireland.

At this year’s Dublin International Film Festival, in a Q&A following a standing ovation at the film’s premiere,  Slattery detailed the hardships involved with making the film, stating that he had to “literally beg, steal and borrow” in order to finally produce the film. Originally conceived over ten years ago, there were “about three or four different incarnations of the story”, and numerous production and financing hurdles to overcome. The result is a film that was meticulously constructed, and in which the emotional investment of the cast and crew is palpable on-screen.

Broken Law is a labour of love, not just in terms of the film’s redemptive narrative but also in terms of its performances. Heanue and Earley shine as the film’s emotionally troubled protagonists. Their performances are complemented by Gemma-Leah Devereux’s endearing portrayal of Amia, and John Connors’ impressively maniacal and intimidating performance as Wallace. Slattery’s personal relationship with his characters is evident. “There’s a lot of me in the Dave character… He’s quite conflicted in terms of his identity.” Slattery informed the packed Cineworld theatre audience. “You can spend so much of your time aspiring to be somebody, and then it turns out that they’re not quite the person you were led to believe. The rug is pulled out from under your feet and you’re left with the pieces of an identity and you’re trying to figure yourself out – that’s basically where I was at one point in my life, I didn’t know who I was, but I immediately had to sit up and try to start to figure things out…”

Having overcome an array of challenges in his personal life, Slattery’s film is a triumphant testament to the fact that hard work and determination really does pay off. Painstakingly crafted, Broken Law is a film that defies convention and embodies vitality. Dublin-centred crime narratives can often tend to rely on reductive and clichéd representation of the city and its characters, and the film’s subversion of these stereotypes comes as a welcome surprise. The relentless pacing of Slattery’s script propels the viewer toward an intense climactic sequence which illustrates the ability of well-constructed action sequences, despite a limited budget, to be as striking and suspenseful as that of any major Hollywood blockbuster. Broken Law deservedly picked up both the Special Jury Award from the Dublin Film Critics Circle and the Aer Lingus Discovery Award at DIFF, and is due for an Irish cinema release. Captivating and moving throughout, Slattery’s film is not to be missed.

Broken Law screened on 28th February as part of the 2020 Dublin International Film Festival.


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