Director: Gerard Barrett
Cast: Jack Reynor, Toni Collette and Will Poulter
Running Time: 93 minutes
Release Date: April 17th
Glassland, Gerard Barrett’s follow up to his debut feature Pilgrim Hill, looks at the life of a young Dublin taxi called John (Jack Reynor), who lives in a small run down house with his mother Jean (Toni Colette). When not working night shifts, John is attempting to take care of his alcoholic mother, who is slowly killing herself with her addiction. Desperate to get her to rehab, not only for her own sake but his own, Jack looks to a shady underworld to help him get the money he needs in order to save his mother.
Much like Pilgrim Hill, Barrett is a lot more interested in character and setting rather than conventional narrative. Barrett focuses on small details in order to provide a sense into the world of the characters. This includes a sink piled up with dishes in a house that looks like it’s been barely lived in. Near the beginning, we see Jack in the kitchen; watering down the milk so he can have something to pour on his cereal. Within this house, Barrett not only gives us a sense of the lives of these characters but the world they inhabit.
This allows us to get an understanding of Jack and what he is going through. Initially, Jack comes across as something resembling a saint, appearing to have extreme patience to what’s going on around him; for instance when his mother, just out of the hospital is franticly searching the house for booze, Jack reacts to her screaming and her destruction by calmly recording a video of her on his phone. Gradually we see how thin his patience actually is, as he reaches a breaking point, yelling that her problem isn’t just killing her, it is killing him. Barrett’s use of characterisation also enables the development of Jean, showing that for all the selfishness of her addiction, there is still somebody there with the capacity to love.
In their performances, Reynor and Collette do a tremendous job at showing the turmoil of their characters. While prone to occasional bouts of hysteria, Collette portrays Jean as a woman whose addictions have corroded any sense of willpower from her while at the same time she still shows traces of humanity when it comes to the love that is shown to her by her son. Given that the character of Jack suppresses much of his true feelings for the majority of the film’s runtime, Reynor portrays him through subtle movements and expressions, letting us glimpse at his inner torment that he can almost never reveal. Special mention should go to Will Poulter as Jack’s soon-to-be emigrating best mate who helps provide some much needed comic relief to the proceedings.
For all the strengths of the acting and Barrett’s understanding of characterisation and tone, they are still some problems with the script that let the film down at times. While the structure is stronger than Pilgrim Hill, whose use of faux documentary style interviews never really gelled with the overall drama, it suffers from a lack of focus on some aspects of the story. The lack of ambiguity for Jean’s reasons for her alcoholism, her husband abandoning her after the birth of their second son who has Down’s syndrome, suffers from being overly specific and walks a line towards cliché when she declares that in alcohol she “found a friend”. There is also the problem of a subplot involving Asian call girls that Jack is occasionally shown dropping off at various locations that feels under developed, which is a problem given its importance to the final act, where the themes of sacrifice and devotion come to the fore but don’t have the power it perhaps should have had.
For all these script problems, the acting of the leads and the strong direction of Barrett more than make up for it. Showing strong signs of his growth as a filmmaker, Barrett demonstrates that he has what it takes to develop further and there is no doubt he is a talent to keep an eye on for the future.