I'd be inclined to give this movie 8.5 out of 10. It is a refreshing example of a good story well told, in contrast to the contrived pap and movie-star-vehicles that spill out of Hollywood these days. It is an ambitious and brave attempt by the director/writer/producer to do something top-notch for Irish cinema. It has something to show and something to tell. The tagline is well chosen, and the theme is well resolved. The theme is that none of us knows who he is until put to the test. I found the story entirely believable.
Gleeson is something of a man with a mission who tries to do a little bit too much. He brings a racist cleaner/maintenance-man into the plot, in part to demonstrate the man's conversion to good thinking; unfortunately this is done in a way that injures the credibility of the plot, and it would be best if it could be cut entirely before the film goes on broader release.
It has been said that Gleeson has made "a hard-edged underworld thriller with a twist", and he has indeed. It has also been said that "everything happens a little too quickly and Gleeson might have slowed things down to build characters and relationships rather than show them in flashback later on, when it's too late, and we've already decided if we like or dislike those involved". That is particularly true of McSorley's character; a little more time and finesse would have gone a long way toward establishing the basis of his empathy with Joe Yumba.
Gleeson's screenplay is remarkably original, and worth seeing for that reason alone. He spent six weeks in the Democratic Republic of Congo in early 2004, meeting people who had been in similar situations. He also researched the ongoing conflict in the State, which has resulted in the deaths of as many as five million people, from horrific acts of brutality.
The showdown between Joe and the gangsters on the capital's Henry Street is a particular highlight, and a piece of modern Irish cinema at its best.
The Front Line has been described elsewhere as "a refreshing, character-driven alternative to the shallow comedies, thrill-less thrillers and bum-numbing budget-chewing two-hour-plus epics currently clogging up your local cinema schedules." So it is. It is not perfect, but its good points far outweigh its bad points, and it is more than a cut above the average. Hopefully Gleeson will go on to do more and better.
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