Irish Crime Drama based in Dublin. A group of small time drug dealers want to move into selling the harsher drugs, their bravado and over confidence lead them to clash with one of the biggest dealers who has been selling drugs in the cut throat business for over 30 years. It doesn’t help that Jason, who is the leader of this band of friends, is having an affair with the wife of the main drug dealer.
Over the last few years that I’ve been doing this job of reviewing, braving the wind and the rain, the sleet and the snow, to make your lives better, I have seen a lot of films that are made in Ireland. I have always said that I cannot judge them any differently than those films made outside my native land, in some ways I’m more expecting of Irish films than others, and judge them more closely than any other films. Thankfully, and especially over the last year or so, Irish films have been amazing. If you haven’t seen A Date for Mad Mary, Sing Street, and Viva then please check them out. While Viva was shot in Cuba it did have a majority of Irish creative talent behind it. When I first heard about Cardboard Gangsters the first thought was that it was going to be an Irish version of Green Street Hooligans or films like that, but it’s so much better than that.
The film is set in an area of Dublin I’ve heard about called Darndale, I had a friend who lived there for a while and couldn’t wait to get out, and if this film is anywhere near the truth of that area I understand his feelings. It seems to be one of those areas that the City Council of Dublin just forgets about and that the people who live there are left to their own devices. Jason and his three closest friends from childhood are trying to sell grass and E tablets to the locals and put together some cash. For Jason it’s about getting out of that area and getting to Spain to DJ. The film stays with Jason for the entire running time concentrating on his character more than any other and while that’s fine as performer John Connolly, who also co-wrote the screenplay, is just riveting to watch, the film suffers from lack of caring on some of the other characters.
Jason is struggling to come to terms with the choices in life that he’s presented with, he can’t show any weakness to anyone, and yet wants to live a life away from the drugs. The reality of the script shows the true struggles for anyone in his situation. His Mother is trying to get her head above water but has to go to a loan shark, which pits Jason head to head with the local heavy gangsters, and his girlfriend has just found out that she’s pregnant. The biggest danger though is Jason’s relationship with the local top dog in the drug business and his wife Kim. Kim is played by Kierston Wareing and you understand that she wants some tenderness but also can’t deny the attraction she has to the younger man.
The feeling that director Mark O’Connor, the other co-writer, brings to the film is that of the early Martin Scorsese films. I was reminded mostly by Mean Streets. With the character of Jason you feel he’d live a normal life if he could get away and start his career of being a DJ in Spain and yet his loyalty to his friends and his need to be the hard man of the area are so strong that he’s willing to risk his life time and time again. There are a few scenes though where I thought the choices led me away from giving the perfect score. One in particular was when Jason and his friends go head to head with some lads who are connected to the IRA and Jason is walking through a house with a chainsaw, I don’t know if they are fans of The Texas Chainsaw films but there are shades of that cheesey nature through the scene.
Cardboard Gangsters is great, violent, enjoyable crime drama. While the setting of the film is true Dublin it will travel well across the globe as there are poor areas like this in every country, even if people don’t want to admit that to themselves, they are there. The performances are honest and from my own experience, as where I lived was once like this area, exceptionally natural. The film finds that raw nerve and flicks it, the constant danger and erratic behaviour of the gangsters, along with the almost idiotic choices made by the characters makes you sit on the edge of your seat and worry about them. Get out there and support his truly amazing Irish film.