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In South Boston, where Irish roots run deep and Catholic tradition reigns, two brothers face similar hardships but lead far different lives. While older brother Terry descends into drugs and crime, 16-year-old Cole vies to make the state baseball championships - but must struggle to withstand his brother's destructive influence. When the two inevitably clash in a life-and-death confrontation, family ties-and futures-are at stake. Written by
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
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"Black Irish" is a great film because it has an affection for its setting and its characters. Despite having some tough subject material, it left me with a somewhat warm and fuzzy feeling.
Normally when writing a review, it is customary to give a short synopsis of the plot to let readers know if it is a film that they would be interested in seeing. But "Black Irish" isn't that kind of movie. It's all about the characters, the McKay family. The McKay's aren't doing very well. In fact, their family is more or less in shambles. Katie (Emily VanCamp) is pregnant and unmarried, which causes much friction between her and her mother Margret (Melissa Leo). Terry (Tom Guiry) is a violent, out-of-control menace who is about to end up in prison, or dead, which ever comes first. Desmond (Brendan Gleeson) is struggling to earn enough money for his family while drowning his sorrows in alcohol (one of which being a tragic secret). Margret is trying to save face by believing this family is "normal," which it is not. Caught in the middle of it all is Cole (Michael Angarano), who's merely trying to stay afloat.
Therein lies its problem. Movies that sacrifice plot for characters are not bad, provided that its characters are interesting enough and portrayed with good performances (which "Black Irish" is filled with). But Brad Gann doesn't see his movie that way (which is kind of surprising, seeing as he wrote and directed it). It seems as if he made the film to have some underlying story or theme to connect the stories (other than the fact that all of the principal characters are related). Problem is, there isn't any.
Not that this makes "Black Irish" a bad film. It's actually very good. Credit goes to Gann for creating a great sense of atmosphere, and knowing the meaning of the word "subtlety," and how to use it. Nothing is heavy-handed like a sledgehammer as in mainstream films, yet it's not infinitesimally subtle like some of those intellectual films on the opposite end of the spectrum. "Black Irish" is smack dab in the middle.
The performances are great all around. The best performances go to Michael Angarano and Brendan Gleeson. Angarano is perfect as the conflicted, young man who is our window into the McKay family. The subtlety in his performance matches perfectly with Gann's approach. Cole is our window into what's left of the McKay family. Angarano plays Cole not as a film character, but as a normal kid. It's not easy to do, and because (when done well) it is so like real life, the performances often go unrecognized. Brendan Gleeson is great, too. He shows more dramatic skill than he's been able to in other, more mainstream roles. Desmond is a man who has lost everything, but is trying to do what he can, even if that means sinking to levels that are just tragic. The scenes he shares with Angarano are some of the film's best; his discussions about the birds and the bees are laugh-out-loud hilarious (which is especially surprising since this is not a comedy). The other actors are great as well, especially Tom Guiry as the "out-of-control" Terry, whom everyone seems to have given up on. This is interesting because while this hurts Terry (but doesn't show this to anyone), he doesn't know how to stop his downward spiral. You know the mark of a talented actor if they can create a good performance out of an undeveloped character, which is the case with the other members of the family (minus Cole and Desmond), if only slightly.
"Black Irish" is a great film to watch, and it's a shame that it didn't get a wider distribution, because it's really a great movie. Imperfect, but still well worth a watch.
My rating: PG-13 for some language and a scene of brief violence.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful.
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