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Love/Hate: The Darndale Years – ★★★★
One of the best things about seeing a film at a film festival is the feeling of being the first audience to see it. Any preconceptions you have come from seeing who is involved, or from hearing buzz from the cast and crew. This can work against you and lead to disappointment, but when the opposite happens it’s a real joy.
In Cardboard Gangsters, Mark O’Connor tells the story of Jay Connolly, a lowly drug dealer (marijuana and pills) from Darndale who does a bit of DJing on the side. Connolly has hopes and dreams to be something, and gets lured into the more dangerous world of dealing heroin, but this new venture treads on the toes of 30-year dealer veteran Derra Murphy and his son Sean. Of course no good dramatic tragedy is complete without a love interest and Connolly’s pregnant girlfriend and subsequent fling with Derra Murphy’s wife throw one hell of a spanner in the works.
Plot-wise the film works well enough, despite the seemingly fantastical nature of the story and the larger-than-life (Lethal Dialect aside, some border on cartoonish) supporting characters. But the grim reality is that gangland Dublin in 2016 is alive and well, with a glance at the newspapers and the ongoing feud between the Kinahan-Hutch feud giving an insight into the horrific tragedy and theatre that can embroil families and destroy communities.
It’s impossible not to discuss the film’s biggest influence or audience reference-point (whether O’Connor and Connors would freely admit it or not), the RTÉ TV series “Love/Hate” which also famously dealt with Dublin drug gangs. It’s very telling, and reassuring, that it’s TV3, Filmbase and BAI funding that is stepping in to bring this story to the big screen.
The break-out star of Love/Hate’s final two seasons was undoubtedly John Connors’ pipe-bomber Patrick and it’s fantastic to see him be given a central role worthy of his talent here. He is a an absolute colossus and you can’t take your eyes off him. He is the primary reason that the films works as well as it does. A lesser talent might have left some of the film’s rough edges exposed, but his performance and work here as writer reveals he has a lot of strings to his bow. Meanwhile, O’Connor continues to be one of the country’s most under-rated film-makers, quietly going about his work depicting stories of struggle and unrest in Dublin.
The film will of course receive criticism for glamourising violence and gang culture, but no one on screen seems happy with their lot in life and the violence will disgust and sicken the audience. Darndale is a (beautifully shot) concrete jungle where you’re either living in fear or a horrible state of poverty, and it certainly isn’t somewhere that you’ll want to live.
A most pleasant surprise and one of the better Irish dramas you will see this year.
Released in Irish cinemas in October 2016
Director Mark O’Connor
Cast John Connors, Fionn Walton, Kierston Wareing, Jimmy Smallhorne, Paul Alwright, Ryan Lincoln
Script John Connors, Mark O’Connor
Producer Richard Bolger