REVIEW BY paul dunne
Cardboard Gangsters follows Jay Connolly and his friends’ attempt to seize money, power, and women through drug dealing in Darndale. Their rise from the low to high life catches the attention of king pin Derra Murphy. As the stakes get higher, so do tensions between the young upstarts and the established veteran Murphy at the head of the local drug trade. Events escalate and spiral out of control, with many twists and turns along the way.
John Connors as Jay is superb. He carries much of the weight of the film, drifting between measured determination and violent explosions. At times, I would bring Jay’s motivations behind his actions into question. However, I would pin this on the writing, particularly in the first act. The second and third acts are noticeably stronger than the first, with the first lacking meaningful set ups to the pay offs in the second and third acts. Connors excellently pulls off his lines and the physicality of the performance, appearing threatening and, surprisingly, tender when the film calls for it.
The supporting cast give great performances too. The comradery of Jay’s gang is believable as a group of lads who grew up together and have a shared history. While they all fill the stereotypes expected of a gang (the leader, the cautious one, the all-talk idiot), the characters never feel cliché. Rather, there is a level of authenticity that is carried throughout the performances and dialogue, part of this due to the clever casting of two Dublin based rappers. The writing is impressive, hitting all the beats expected in a gangster narrative and adding an occasional touch of humour that never overpowers the seriousness of Jay’s trajectory.
The cinematography and soundtrack deserve a special mention. The intense tracking shots that follow Jay on his vicious tirades are accompanied by a suitable soundtrack. The intense songs, often provided by up-and-coming Irish artists, match the pace of the shots. The camera’s movement in and throughout the various scenes imbue the film with a legitimate liveliness. The action is at times outlandish but never cartoonish. The film avoids becoming outrageous, maintaining a sense of the detrimental effects of drug dealing and violence throughout.
Cardboard Gangsters offers a true to life portrayal of working class Dublin, particularly the scenes set in night clubs and “gaff parties”. There is an unjudging eye cast over the world of drug dealing, displaying both debauchery and destituteness. This classic gangster narrative framed in an authentic Irish setting is a thoroughly enjoyable and well produced film. I suspect this is a film soon to be added to the list of recent Irish productions to be successful at home and abroad, both critically and culturally.