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In the front row pew, a young boy named Gabriel sits as his father and a preacher tell him: "There are certain people who are chosen by God for some special purposes of His own. And we believe you are such a one." Thus unfolds the destiny of Gabriel in Brian Kirk's riveting Middletown. After almost an entire lifetime spent in religious instruction, Gabriel returns to his small Irish town as the new preacher. But the town is full of drinking and gambling, and Gabriel's younger brother Jim and sister-in-law Caroline are no exceptions. Soon Gabriel learns that Caroline does not attend church, runs the local pub across from the church on the Sabbath, and refuses to have her child baptized. Jim, the flat-broke black sheep of the family, quickly becomes caught between his brother's beliefs and his wife's strong-mindedness. As a messenger of God, Gabriel believes he must save the townspeople, especially his brother, his sister-in-law, and the couple's unborn child. The battle for their souls... Written by
Tribeca Film Festival Review
Brian Kirk's debut feature is a beautifully constructed, strikingly shot Gothic thriller that has about it the whiff of ancient tragedy.
With classic simplicity the story focuses on a conflict between two brothers, a clash of values and faith that speaks to our own polarised world. As is suggested by its name, the town of the title could be anywhere in rural Ireland of the fifties, a rain-sodden, debilitating, grey knot of streets offering little in the way of hope. The church, which dominates the town as much as the pub, has been led for as long as anyone can remember by Reverend Cray (Mick Lally), a meek, gentle person who, as the film begins, passes the baton onto the incoming minister, Gabriel Hunter (Mathew MacFadyen).
Middletown is Gabriel's home, he is returning from a long absence to bring the word of god to his father Bill (Gerard McSorley) and brother Jim (Daniel Mays). What he finds here ignites a spark of righteous fury and indignation; his brother has shacked up with a woman who runs the tavern, in his eyes a den of iniquity and a malign influence on the impressionable townsfolk. Spurred on by this aberration, he vows to cleanse the populace of vice and sin, at whatever cost, a moral quest at potentially violent odds with his brother's secular choice of life.
This is taut, lean film-making without an ounce of fat on its windswept bones. Daragh Carville's measured screenplay builds on the initial premise, tightening the tension screws, until the finale reveals him to be a writer with the courage of his convictions. The chilly sense of time of place created by Kirk, the fine performances he has drawn from his actors, and the austere photography from Adam Suschitzky, which does beautiful things with the colour grey, combine to create an absorbing film whose message on the dangers of religious fundamentalism holds much currency. David O Mahony (Dublin Event Guide)
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