Inside Out – ★★★★★
Frank Berry’s Michael Inside is a superb depiction of the cycle of poverty and dependencies that can destroy Irish communities.
The film is the story of Michael McCrea (Dafhyd Flynn, also in director Frank Berry’s I Used to Live Here), who lives with his grandfather Francis (Lalor Roddy) in a housing estate in Tallaght. Michael’s father is currently in prison and while he dropped out of school before doing his Leaving Cert, Michael is now on the right path having taken up other courses and shown an interest in social care. Unfortunately it all falls asunder when association with a group of his mates mean he gets saddled with a bag of cocaine to “move on”. Michael is neither quick or savvy enough to sell the drugs, and an early morning sting from the Gardaí results in his arrest and a 3 month spell in jail.
Inside the prison is where Michael has to do some very quick growing up. He is initially picked on because of his youth and inexperience, but a helpful word in the ear from Moe Dunford’s character results in Michael gaining confidence and fighting back, however this mentoring comes with a price and he has to hold contraband items and carry out revenge beatings on behalf of his benefactor. It’s impossible to be independent and passive in prison, and it’s made all the worse by the knowledge that in the outside world his grandfather is being leaned on by the gang that owned the drugs that Michael went down for.
The most remarkable thing about Michael Inside is without doubt the performance of Michael. Dafhyd Flynn is a star in the making and has an intensity and presence which deserves to draw comparisons to Jack O’Connell. His conflicted angst is clear from the outset and Flynn elicits empathy and emotion in equal measure. To experience Flynn’s performance here, coming after that of Dermot Murphy, Jacob McCarthy in The Drummer and the Keeper, and a week before Barry Keoghan takes a bow in Christopher Nolan Dunkirk suggests that male Irish acting is in very safe hands should messrs Fassbender or Farrell decide to follow Daniel Day-Lewis into early retirement.
While the film shares a universe with the likes of Cardboard Gangsters and ‘Love/Hate’, it’s worlds apart in tone. This is a socially conscious film which takes a realism approach to exploring the crippling problems of the society that exists on the fringes of the drug trade in Ireland. The developmental process and research workshops with former prisoners from the Irish Prison Service’s Pathways Programme means that you’re seeing a very real, unglamourous depiction of life “inside” in Ireland. Berry noted in his post-screening Fleadh Q&A that he was most interested in exploring the dynamic that develops between grandparents and grandchildren in communities where parents may not be around for whatever reason, and it certainly feels like a fresh take on Irish family dynamics. Berry’s I Used to Live Here was a worthy film which did a lot of the Killinarden community it worked in, and this feels like a big jump to another level, with a bigger focus on the over-arcing narrative.
Worth noting is the cinematography from Tom Comerford (who also shot The Drummer and the Keeper and Pilgrimage) who has created a beautiful look to the film with narrow depth of field focus in play. Couple that with Berry’s editing decisions to never really cut back and forth between people in dialogue during his editing and it means the film really does stand out from the crowd.
Michael Inside is a film that will draw comparisons to the much-heralded HBO series ‘The Night Of’, due to its subject matter and themes, but it holds its own as an outstanding piece of drama, Irish or otherwise. There is something very special about attending a World Premiere of a new Irish Film as you may have read the press blurb and maybe seen some stills or a trailer, but until you’re sitting in there and the titles come up on screen you don’t quite know what you’re going to see. In this instance you can breathe a sigh of relief within about the first five minutes because you know you’re watching something very special – bravo all.
Director Frank Berry
Cast Dafhyd Flynn, Lalor Roddy & Moe Dunford
Script Frank Berry
Producers Donna Eperon, Tristan Orpen Lynch & Aoife O’Sullivan
Duration 96 minutes
Irish Release Date TBC