Regardless, call it what you will; I call it a burner flick to throw on the tube when you don’t have the patience to sit through The Departed.

Film Review: The Black Guelph

Film Reviews

The Black Guelph
Director: John Connors

Cluster Fox Films
Released: 06.30

“In a state of fear, what isn’t said becomes the symptom.” This is the single-sentence synopsis you see broken up at the beginning and end of 2022’s gritty crime drama The Black Guelph.

Actor and director John Connors proved his knack for crime dramas since winning Best Actor at the 2018 Irish Film and Television Awards for his suspenseful role in Cardboard Gangsters. He would get his hands truly dirty with his directorial debut in the docuseries The Travellers. However, Connors’ true leadership shows as he clouds the Emerald Isle in a darker, more spiteful tone of green (drug money and envious payback) by taking a look at Ireland’s decaying underclass in The Black Guelph.

We see the story through the cocaine-hazed lens of Kanto (Graham Earley), a low-level drug dealer whose petty swindles throughout his apartment complex keep him from progressing to a life free of crime. He’s been booted out of his loft by his fed-up girlfriend and the mother of his infant daughter, Rachel (Lauren Larkin). His hardened lifestyle falls further down when a major drug kingpin starts hassling Kanto for payment. At the same time, his absent “Man in Black”–persona father, Cormac (Barry John Kinsella), shows up to rekindle what’s left of their crumbling relationship. Unfortunately, this “fatherly love” is accompanied with Cormac’s battle with homelessness and the court system in a controversial lawsuit involving sexual assault charges against the Dublin industrial school that he attended as a child. 

There are slivers of transcendent production quality for any cinephile junkie to enjoy scattered throughout the film’s 125-minute runtime. Its raw energy is amplified by the unique cinematic elements, or lack thereof: Where one would expect a music score there is drawn-out, utter silence. When there is music (gangster rap and EDM), it’s played offscreen through muffled car radios or distant jukeboxes at Kanto’s local pub. These elements make the movie feel real. Heartfelt depictions of drug addiction and those affected by it are shown full display including the confusion, solitude and turmoil that comes with. When narcotics are involved, users might take the brunt of the ground-zero physical impact, but family and friends catch the emotional fallout—a never-ending cycle in the dog-eat-dog environment of Éire’s shanty high rises.

The father-son relationship didn’t quite pull at my heartstrings. We’re supposed to focus on Kanto and Cormac letting go of their differences and “coming together as a family,” and like their thick Irish accents, I found the resolution hard to make out. The two only share about three scenes together, and most of those precious five minutes are spent on “Fuck you,” and “Why the fuck are you here?” It’s a subplot that should’ve taken a heavier toll.

The Black Guelph is definitely a crime drama, but it doesn’t know what kind. It’s not the surrealist, grimey heroin trip of Trainspotting, nor is it the home-wrecking lower-class survival story of 8 Mile, and I expected something more defined. Both Graham Earley and Barry John Kinsella give white-knuckle, powerhouse performances, yet something is not connecting. Would a longer run time have helped? A bit more direction? Regardless, call it what you will; I call it a burner flick to throw on the tube when you don’t have the patience to sit through The Departed. –Alton Barnhart 

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