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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
For a country that has produced some of the world's finest dramatists and has such a rich musical heritage it has always been a source of bewilderment to me why so much of Ireland's home-grown cinema has been so appalling. Perhaps because, by its very nature, those talented in the field of Irish cinema have been quick to abandon their native shore for careers in Britain or America, (Colin Farrell is a recent case in point), and that the really successful Irish directors that have continued to work in Ireland and with Irish subjects have made their films with international money and an eye on the international market. I am thinking particularly of Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan who alternate between films with an Irish setting and projects filmed abroad.
"Middletown", however, is very much an Irish film even if two of its principal actors are English. It's certainly well-made of its kind and might have bucked the trend that Irish films aren't really very good; (Paddy Breathnach's "I Went Down", written by the brilliant young playwright Conor McPherson, is a crucial exception). Unfortunately this tale of fundamentalism set in a fictitious Irish town, presumably in the North of Ireland judging by the accents, (Mid-Ulster Bible-Belt, if you ask me), and presumably in the recent past, (the fifties? the sixties?), is so over-the-top that it really is quite ridiculous.
Nothing in the film rings true and you can't help feeling it's writer, Daragh Carville, has been strongly influenced by Flannery O'Connor and that the whole thing might have made more sense had it been set in the American bible-belt and not in Ireland where even the most extreme Protestant fundamentalist was never quite as loony as this. It's all meant be to be grim in a grand guignol kind of way and it certainly is, though I was more prone to giggles than frisson's at the right Reverand Matthew Macfayden's antics. He has the Ulster accent off pat and there is nothing wrong with his acting or indeed that of Daniel Mays as his brother, Gerard McSorley as his father or Eva Birthistle as Mays' wife but the script is so appallingly derivative that good acting can do nothing to save the film. So rather than a step up the ladder for Irish cinema "Middletown" is, I'm afraid, just another nail in its coffin.
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