Gemma Creagh investigates Fintan Connolly and Fiona Bergin’s’s latest film, PI flick, Barber.

Featuring some of the best homegrown actors our indigenous industry has to offer, Barber tackles timely themes while delivering a fresh take on a classic form. In fact, die hard fans of the format take note before viewing, that while aesthetically on point, this dramatic whodunnit doesn’t conform to the nihilistic elements of the genre. A more apt billing would be as a Neo Neo Noir. 

Set during peak COVID restrictions, the plot revolves around the titular character Val Barber (Aidan Gillen), a PI struggling to keep his head above water. A break from his low level insurance fraud cases, his fiscal luck changes when well-to-do widow Lily Dunne (Deirdre Donnelly) hires him to search for her missing granddaughter, Sara (Isabelle Connolly). As Barber reaches out to his old friends on the force, he meets resistance at every turn – ultimately drawing the attention of the rather sinister high-level Garda Tony Quinn (Liam Carney).

Between Ill-fated trysts, day drinking, and the politics of reengaging his questionable old colleagues, Barber’s personal life is just as messy. The fallout of this case comes even closer to home when Barber and his ex wife Monica (Helen Behan) attempt to put their past behind them to care for their daughter. Kate Barber (Aisling Kearns) is attempting to recover from a traumatic brain injury. Over the course of his investigation, Barber discovers that the mysterious missing young woman was caught up in the seedy underbelly of power and corruption – leaving a trail in her wake that goes all the way to the top. 

The most impressive thing about this film is despite so many restrictions – budget, COVID, shoot time –  it remains so polished. Visually, the film is a striking love letter to Dublin, showcasing the vibrant city centre. This array of striking locations, ranging from moodily-lit Georgian houses to bustling hotel bars, are captured beautifully by experienced DOP Owen McPolin (Foundation, Vikings). The pandemic restrictions – masks and social distancing –  add a timely element that delivers thematically, externalising the imposed isolation of this conflicted protagonist. This was all achieved on a microbudget, a fraction of what it would usually take to shoot a feature of this scale. This is a testament to the creative skill of director Fintan Connolly, working in tandem with long-time collaborator, co-writer and producer Fiona Bergin.

This film deviates from the classic Noir format due to the warmth of the writing and depth of the relationships; this warmth permeates through the story and performances, and makes Barber all the more watchable. Aidan Gillen’s on screen chemistry with Helen Behan and newcomer Aisling Kearns is wonderfully complex and nuanced. This character study of a fragmented man searching for connection is certainly well timed for the post COVID era; Barber is an ambitious, accomplished film with a lot to offer.

Barber is in cinemas from 14th April 2023


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