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This review originally appeared as part of our Galway Film Fleadh 2014 coverage. Festival buzz review here

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Drive – ★★★★★

You’re likely to hear a lot of hyperbole about Gerard Barrett over the next couple of months. His first film Pilgrim Hill was a grim, low-budget film about a farmer falling on hard times. It cost next to no money and so its strong performance with critics and at the Irish box office (in relative terms) will have been seen as a really pleasant surprise for his producers and backers. With Glassland, Barrett is making the step up with a bigger story, heavier themes and some instantly recognisable faces on screen.

Glassland tells the story of John, a Tallaght-based taxi-driver (Jack Reynor) who lives with his mother Jean (Toni Collette). The pair are stuck in a vicious circle with Jean destroying herself with an alcohol addiction and a costly “drying out” rehab (offered by counsellor Michael Smiley) seems to be the only way out of the hole. Unfortunately this kind of care doesn’t come cheap and to get the €8000 John has to re-consider the type of driving jobs he takes on – jobs that were already starting to blur the shady moral lines that exist for so many people on the fringes of society.

The British actor Will Poulter (recognisable from We Are The Millers and Son of Rambow) plays John’s best friend and offers most of the film’s comic relief. His presence and his emigration subplot provides a nice antidote to the heavier themes of addiction and morality thrown up by John and Jean.

glassland 2Reynor’s performance really is superb and he does a great job at twisting his natural SoCoDu drawl into a rougher Tallaght-based accent. In the post-screening  Q&A he claimed he actually found the character easier to get to grips with than his work as Richard in Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did. In real life Richard and John would likely only encounter each other in a taxi on Harcourt Street on a Saturday night, but both men have similarly challenging moral battles to deal with.

The irony of Reynor top-lining the cast of a smaller, independent film like this only 8 days after being Michael Bay’s flag-bearer for Transformers: Age of Extinction at the film’s snazzy Dublin premiere isn’t lost on anyone. He’s 22 years old and engaged to an Irish model and so hard to know if he’s aware yet of the need to balance the green-screen heavy dress-up roles with the smaller, grittier characters. Perhaps we should try and email his publicist with a copy of the Fassbender code (I’ll do Frank for me, X-Men for you, 12 years a Slave for me, Prometheus for you).

There is one sequence midway through the film that has stayed firmly lodged in my head. John decides to humour his mother and have a drink with her. He carries out his stereo and sets up some tunes. Barrett opts to soundtrack the scene with Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and it’s a joyful scene of a woman having a great time. Then, bang. He kills the soundtrack and cuts to the song playing as it sounds in the room with a little bit of Jean’s whiny, drunken mumbling over it. It’s hard to think of a more effective way of showing the difference between how an alcoholic feels when getting hammered and how they’re perceived to those around them who’ve been taking the hit for years.

Without giving anything away, the ending, and ultimately John’s decision of what is right and wrong, are somewhat controversial and will leave the viewer reeling as to whether this was the easy choice for him to make, or indeed even the best option for Barrett as director to take. Not everyone will like how things play out, but a film like this that leaves everyone with a “ah grand so” feeling at the end is pointless.

The film deserves a second viewing to see if that 5-star rating will be sustained when seeing it away from the buzz and energy of a film festival premiere with cast and crew present. Something tells me it’s probably going to hold up.

As a final aside, a nod to the Kerry T.D. Jimmy Deenihan who, eight hours before the premiere, lost his role as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht but opened his introductory speech with a real zinger… “I just lost my job today.”

Screened at the 2014 Galway Film Fleadh on July 11th 2014, released across Ireland on April 17th 201

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.