Director: Gerard Barrett
Major Players: Jack Reynor, Toni Collette, Will Poulter
Out Of Five: Four
A few months ago I reviewed A Royal Night Out, a piece of froth about the House Of Windsor that won’t make it onto my best films of 2015 list. But in the past few days, I’ve seen two of its stars each deliver a far better performance than they could ever have done within the confines of that film. The first is Bel Powley, who’s currently the 15 year old of the title in The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, and it’s real breakthrough role for her. Now, on DVD, comes Jack Reynor in Glassland, and who won him a Special Jury Prize at Sundance.
He plays John, a low-income taxi driver in Dublin with more than enough on his plate. Apart from his lack of money, his younger brother with learning difficulties is in a home and his mother (Toni Collette) can’t bear to visit him. And she’s also an alcoholic, so addicted that she’ll need a liver transplant if she doesn’t stop drinking straight away. He’s offered a month long re-hab for her but it doesn’t come cheap. To make ends meet, he often does little extra jobs on the side – illegal ones – and, now needing 8,000 Euros to pay for his mother’s treatment, he approaches the source of those jobs for more work.
Essentially, this is about a decent person, through no fault of their own, finding themselves in a position where the only way out seems to be crime. John has the weight of his family on his shoulders. There’s also his tearaway friend Shane (Will Poulter) who still lives with his parents but wants the two of them to get out of town. In the end, he has to go by himself. John, in the meantime, is trying to hold his family up and bring it back together. He’s the only one that goes to his brother’s 18th birthday at the residential home because his mother, Jean, has resented him since he was born. As she relates in a less drunken moment, when her partner saw the baby, he walked out of the hospital and never came back. Not only that, but nobody wanted to know her or offer her help. Nobody answered her calls.
This isn’t a film with much in the way of physical action. Yet is has a powerful emotional pull, drawing you in like a cinematic magnet. Director Gerard Barrett, who also wrote the script, delivers something lean to the point of sparse, deliberately leaving things to our imagination at times. When John decides to take on some more extra work to raise the money for his mother’s re-hab, we only ever see him on the phone and hear his one-sided conversation. Who’s on the other end and what they’re saying we neither know nor hear. We just have to assume.
It’s a simple technique, but effective, both in capturing our attention and slowly but inexorably building a sense of tension and foreboding. Barrett uses his camerawork in the same way. Most of the shots inside John’s cab are taken from the back seat, as if we’re the passenger, and he’s equally smart with his use of light – or the absence of it. When Jean comes back home after her stay in hospital, John puts her to bed and switches off the light. The screen is black and silent – until you hear her crying. You’re still in the room with her and you see exactly what she sees. And you’re close to feeling the wet tears roll down her cheeks.
Reynor is excellent as John. He’s doing the right thing in getting the money for his mother’s re-hab – and yet he’s not. Collette is equally good as his alcoholic mother: you can see the younger woman who used to love dancing and would have had a real spring in her step, but who lost all that with the birth of her third boy. The child that she never forgave.
Ultimately, Glassland is something of an enigma. It’s low key, gloomy, almost documentary-like in style and with an open ending, but one where you have a good idea of what’s likely to happen. Its slow burn style draws you in closer and closer, making you increasingly feel involved with the characters, John especially. His mother breaks his heart and he eventually breaks ours.
Glassland is released on DVD on Monday, 10 August and is reviewed on Talking Pictures.