an encouraging directorial debut that deserves to be seen
As any fan of Irish movies knows, the people of Ireland generally like to while away their time - between warm pints of Guinness - by embarking on secret affairs with ginger housemaids, further corroding their repressive relationships with their fathers, and building nail-bombs for the IRA. In recent years, films like 'Waking Ned' and 'I Went Down' have shamefully attempted to re-orientate this perception, emphasizing the inherent amiability and humour of the Irish people. Conor Mcpherson's 'Saltwater' dares to take this dangerous agenda even further, by setting the action in a small South Dublin seaside community and actually making the characters within it seem real. 'Michael Collins' fans beware you have been warned.
There are several plot lines in the movie, but they all orbit around the family of chip-shop owner George (Brian Cox), who has recently lost his wife and a lot of money at the bookies. His son (Peter McDonald), frustrated with the way his life is going, takes it upon himself to steal some money back for his father. And his younger brother Joe (Laurence Kinlan) is having his own problems, covering for a rebellious school-mate, and witnessing a rape that he can't get out of his mind. Meanwhile, their friend Ray (Conor Mullen), a university lecturer with a mid-life crisis, is juggling two women and an imploding career.
Around these simple ideas, and from his own script, first-time director McPherson (author of hit play 'The Weir') builds up a charming, convincing environment in which beauty can be found in monotony and havoc can ensue from familiarity; a timewarped town in which everybody knows the local policewoman and great ripples can be caused by the tiniest splash. Most impressively, he manages to inspire exceptionally natural performances from every single member of his cast, from the adolescent bully to the elderly drunkard. Rising middle-aged star Brendan Gleeson is especially good, in a supporting role as a corrupt loan shark, but top acting honours have to go to Kinlan ('Angela's Ashes'), who manages to make all American child actors look silly with a striking performance as the young man who knows too much.
'Saltwater' is an undeniably small movie, and this means it's not for everyone. There is little that is cinematic about the script, which seems to naturally belong somewhere between theatre and television (the film was adapted from McPherson's play, 'This Lime Tree Bower'). There is also some horribly plinky-plonky music, and some paper-thin characters. But elements like these didn't inhibit 'American Beauty', and, although 'Saltwater' lacks the mass-appeal of that movie, it's often just as enjoyable, and just as adept at veering between the subtly dark and the genuinely hilarious. Yes, there's nothing here that hasn't been done before but when a movie contains the most memorable hangover scene in recent memory, (worth the admission price alone), it's scarcely worth complaining. It's a very encouraging directorial debut, which deserves to be seen; a small landmark for Irish film. And there's not even a leprechaun in sight.
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