DIR/WRI: Paddy Slatterty • ED: John Desay • DOP: Narayan Van Maele • PRO: Simon Doyle, Paddy Slattery • DES: Tracey O’Hanlon • CAST: Graham Earley, Gemma-Leah Devereux, John Connors, Tristan Heanue, Ally Ni Chiarain
As debut presentations go, Paddy Slattery’s Broken Law is a zinger and eminently watchable from start to finish. There are a few slow moments but they are interspersed intelligently throughout the film to allow audiences catch their breath before the next high-velocity action scenes.
The plot concerns two brothers, one on the right side of the law and the other, a convict newly released from prison. Tristan Heanue plays a member of the Gardai, Dave Connolly. Part of the narrative concerns Connolly’s father, a hero policeman, who was murdered in the line of duty. The event is alluded to over the course of the tale and occupies a key part in its ultimate outcome.
Graham Earley stars as Joe Connolly, Dave’s younger and infinitely more wayward brother. The opening scenes of Broken Law introduce Joe as he leaves prison after release. He encounters two previous partners in crime, Wallace (John Connors) and Pete (Ryan Lincoln) as he walks away from the jail. They persuade Joe to come with them and ply him with beer and weed. Wallace and Pete start to become more agitated when the alcohol and drugs begin to take effect. Throwing caution to the wind, both parties confess to Joe that there is an upcoming ‘job’, aka a criminal act, and ask him to take part in the imminent unlawful activity. Joe resists but eventually caves, agreeing to join Wallace and Pete in their venture.
The plot has a number of key narrative components – the first and most obvious, is based on the biblical story of the siblings, Cain and Abel. Roughly summed up – Abel is a moral citizen. Cain is not. They come into conflict and Cain murders Abel in a fit of rage. In Broken Law, the murderous element is missing (otherwise there would be screams of ‘spoiler alert’ from readers of this review), but the interaction between the two brothers is much the same and the multi-layered trope of good versus evil, moral righteousness pitted against skulduggery, and self-affirmation contrasted with crippling insecurity, remains clearly defined throughout the film. Slattery also sets cowboys versus Indians along with the age-old subtext of bounty hunting where the hunted (Joe), elicits sympathy and his brother Dave, struggles with loyalty to his sibling against staying on the side of laws he has sworn to uphold and assiduously works to maintain. By wisely interjecting the element of unresolved conflict on a complex number of levels, Slattery sustains interest in the characters and plot but also reserves judgement and blurs lines between good and bad. It is difficult to define either brother as being worthy of one classification over another.
Dave is a man torn by indecision – he strives to be worthy of his hero father yet his insecurities prompt him to reject any happiness that comes his way. He hesitates at key moments even when joy and fulfilment is unambiguously presented to him and remains frustrated in almost all of his social interactions. Throughout the story, there are touches of Dante’s Inferno – a story of a morally righteous upholder of the law who is lost both literally and spiritually. Dante enters and passes through the nine gates of hell accompanied by Virgil (writer of the Aeneid, concerning another traveller who was equally lost), guiding him on his journey. Dante is Dave Connolly. Virgil is represented by a hybrid of three characters with the first two being Superintendent Richard Byrne (Gary Lydon), an erstwhile colleague of Dave’s hero father and Dave’s mother Irene (Ally Ni Chiarain). The third character who leads Dave towards salvation, is actually his brother Joe who provokes and compels Dave to self-actualisation. It is also interesting to note that the main leitmotifs of Broken Law are almost identical to those of Dante’s Inferno which are morality, Dante’s (Dave’s) belief in divine authority, a journey by means of self-doubt and misery, followed by efforts to achieve salvation through virtuous acts.
The casting was genius – Tristan Heanue plays Dave as bewildered and confused and most assuredly lost. The son of his father. Trying to come to terms with a myth and racked with self-loathing. Joe, his younger brother is cocky and confident. He has never had to comply with the stringent dicta placed on Dave. John Connors as Wallace was truly one of the scariest characters I have ever witnessed on the big screen. He combined just the right amount of menace and stupidity along with some terrifyingly credible levels of psychosis. Pete is an apt and ominously perfect sidekick to Wallace’s steady breakdown and loss of control. The music was expert – sublimely timed to perfection and matched the narrative flawlessly. It is a sound track that I would buy and listen to.
As debut films go, Paddy Slattery has much to be proud of – he seamlessly weaves the threads of a story into a cohesive and believable plot to make Broken Law a film well worth viewing.
Broken Law is in cinemas from 31st July 2020