Dublin’s Boyz n the Hood

Mark O’Connor’s most com­plete pic­ture yet is so en­joy­able you for­give its flaws

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

CARD­BOARD GANGSTERS ★★★★ Di­rected by Mark O’Connor Star­ring John Con­nors, Fionn Wal­ton, Jimmy Small­horne, Kier­ston Ware­ing 18 cert, gen re­lease, 92 min

Six years ago, Mark O’Connor, an in­ven­tive young Dubliner, im­pressed fes­ti­val crowds with his rough-hewn de­but Be­tween the Canals. Few young film-mak­ers moved the cam­era with such con­fi­dence or were so eco­nom­i­cal in the cre­ation of char­ac­ter. The pic­ture was a bit of a mess, but our an­ten­nae re­mained on alert. Since then he has de­vel­oped into one of our most in­ter­est­ing odd­balls (that is meant en­tirely as a com­pli­ment). King of the Trav­ellers over-reached it­self. Stalker was ev­ery­thing you would want from an ex­per­i­men­tal psy­cho-com­edy.

Card­board Gangsters is O’Connor’s most com­plete film yet. The pic­ture, set among small-time crim­i­nals in Darn­dale, has ad­mirable ki­netic sweep and a keen sense of the ab­sur­di­ties of city life. The pic­ture does lack story and struc­ture. But it is so en­joy­able on a scene-by-scene ba­sis that it proves hard to care.

The charis­matic, un­shake­able John Con­nors – who also takes a screen­play credit – plays troubled young op­er­a­tor Jay. He has his share of prob­lems. Hood­lum landlords are threat­en­ing to throw his ma out of her house. His girl­friend may be preg­nant. The so­cial wel­fare peo­ple are threat­en­ing to stop his dole be­cause he does the odd gig as a DJ. Soon he and his pals are con­tem­plat­ing an as­sault on the up­per rungs of the lad­der. They rob an off-li­cence. They move from flog­ging weed to shift­ing heroin. We’ve seen enough crime movies to sus­pect their path will not be unim­peded.

The star of the show is Michael Lavelle’s cam­era. O’Connor has talked him into long shots that fol­low the char­ac­ters all the way down the street and into busy houses. He sets the scene at a party by tak­ing us all around the ac­tion in one enor­mously busy take. Jay’s DJ set buzzes with de­li­cious, oily en­ergy. The punch-ups and pur­suits are chore­ographed with an in­ven­tion that stops just short of in­ap­pro­pri­ate rel­ish. The film is ex­cit­ing, but it is un­likely to in­spire much copy­cat be­hav­iour.

The film-mak­ers are al­ways on the look­out for a colour­ful aside or a hu­mor­ous con­fronta­tion. Watch as one fel­low fumes when he dis­cov­ers that – after de­scrib­ing a “mas­ter­piece” sand­wich over the phone – the restau­rant won’t de­liver to Darn­dale. Noth­ing seems quite so for­eign as the cheeky North­ern Ir­ish kids who mus­cle in on busi­ness. They may as well be from His­pan­iola.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, the film’s stylis­tic flour­ishes call up a bum note. If in­ter­cut­ting a sex scene with the frothy open­ing of a cham­pagne bot­tle was de­lib­er­ate then it demon­strates vul­gar­ity. If the jux­ta­po­si­tion was ac­ci­den­tal then it shows care­less­ness. It’s a shame the story doesn’t have a lit­tle more shape and orig­i­nal­ity.

For all that, O’Connor has – helped in no small mea­sure by a tow­er­ing turn from Con­nors – come as close to a Dublin Boyz n the Hood as we could have hoped. It’s noisy, loud, vi­o­lent and sad. Cult pop­u­lar­ity beck­ons.

The likely lads A film about small-time crim­i­nals in Darn­dale, with a keen sense of the ab­sur­di­ties of city life

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