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Black Irish   (released 3/17/2007)
By Neil Norman

     One of the best things about watching films in a festival is that you get to see new talent discovered. One filmmaker whose star is rising is Brad Gann, screenwriter of the Vince Papale biopic Invincible and writer/director of his feature debut: Black Irish. The film is an ensemble piece and a coming of age story set in "Southie," or heavily Irish-Catholic South Boston. It chronicles the events in the life of the McKay family, interweaving the stories of the four members with interesting shots of the locale.

     Teen-aged Cole Mckay, played by an expressive Micheal Angarano (Seabiscuit), is the protagonist of the film. The alterboy struggles with many different issues of adolescent life as he tries to escape the influence of his family and geographic environment and reach for his dream of becoming a Major League pitcher. The awkward awakening of his interest in girls is shown with some comic effect. He also gets involved in petty crime with his hoodlum older brother Terry, played by Tom Guiry (Mystic River, The Black Donnellys). More than anything, Cole wants to regain the attention and affection of his tormented father Desmond McKay, played in a masterful turn by Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart, Gangs of New York). Emily Van Camp (Everwood) plays the sister Kathleen who is young and pregnant with no father in the picture. This puts her in direct conflict with her strict Catholic mother Janet McKay, played by Melissa Leo (Homicide: Life on the Streets), who wants her to have the baby in a Catholic home for young mothers.

     The acting in the film is very strong, with great performances delivered from the whole cast. Brendan Gleeson’s portrayal of Desmond Mckay is the best of show, however. He breathes new life into the somewhat stereotypical role of the distant, drunken Irish father. Desmond Mckay seems damned on earth with his problems in life as a failed sports star, hidden medical issues, and his enslavement to the grind as a family man trying to make enough money to make ends meet. He numbs himself with alcohol and withdraws into himself, and yet still seems to be able to shine that light of love for his son and family deep from within the confines of his hard life visage.

     One of the best parts of Black Irish is the memorable lines and quotes in the film. The script is extremely well written and densely layered with lots of conflict and emotion. The dialogue seems real and it adds to the emotional impact of the story. A lot of great lines stood out with many of them being delivered by Desmond, the father. “Anyone crowds the plate, throw it right at their friggin’ head… Keeps ‘em honest,” is fatherly advice delivered to Cole, even though he struggles to make it to a game to watch his son play. “Save the tears for the cemetery, as they’re wasted on me,” he quips at a funeral. “McDonald’s has served a few more than the Catholics have…how many billions they up to now?” he asks a priest who is puzzled at Cole’s desire to leave the Church training to get a part-time restaurant job to help the family make ends meet.

     One of the best scenes in the film is where the title comes into play. When Terry tries to rob Cole’s restaurant, Cole confronts him. Terry says “We’re family, Black Irish, but you’re more like black licorice… soft and sweet but hollow on the inside.” “We may be brothers, but I’m nothing like you,” Cole replies as he does the right thing, redeeming himself.

     The colloquial use of the term “Black Irish” can represent a derogative, stereotypical nature of a people who can’t help but to drink, fight, and find trouble. It is clear that the characters on a downward spiral like Terry and Desmond think of themselves this way. But hope is portrayed in Cole as he actually has the capability to escape being dragged down by his surroundings and the drama in his life. He believes in himself and the audience does too, as you root for him to be successful. In fact, Brad Gann creates such well-rounded, realistic characters in the film that you can’t help but to pull for all of them, even with their faults in view.

     Black Irish is a meditation on Family, fault, and finding out how really hard it sometimes is to grow. Go see this richly emotional drama and you will be well rewarded.

Neil Norman is a freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Central Florida. Neil also works on independent film productions.

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