Adam Smith’s first feature, (following his work as a director on Chemical Brothers videos and TV’s Dr Who), is no whizz-bang Brit gangster flick. Rather, the rewards are in the carefully-constructed cinematography and top-notch performances, not just from the two leads, but also child actors and a supporting cast who blend seamlessly into the unforgiving environment on display.
Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson), is head of an Irish travelling clan. Gypsy, thief, and proudly uneducated patriarch of a family he’ll do anything to keep together. With one son behind bars, Colby’s other child, Chad (Michael Fassbender), must choose between following his father’s path, or creating a new life for his young son, Tyson.
Yet it’s no easy morality tale. Characters resist empathy, and (despite a great performance from Lyndsey Marshal as Chad’s wife, Kelly), the narrative focus on the moral quagmire of masculinity eschews women, in favour of an exploration of what it means to be “man”, “father”, and “son”.
It’s an old tale, the son and the father at a crossroads of diverging paths towards the light or the dark, (or the Luke and the Darth if you prefer your metaphors Star Wars-style). Starting with a hare, chased by a car driven by Chad’s kid, and featuring some great car getaways along the way, the film embraces a meandering, unfocused pace that may infuriate some. Where it succeeds is as slow-burn character study of machismo within an impoverished family, bound by a criminal morality.