White Irish Drinkers (2010)
“Blood is thicker than Brooklyn.”
Director: John Gray
Cast: Nick Thurston, Geoffrey Wigdor, Stephen Lang
Synopsis: Brooklyn, 1975: two brothers looking for a way out of their working-class neighborhood make a pact to rob a local theater on the night of a Rolling Stones concert.
White Irish Drinkers, written and directed by John Gray who, until this release, had worked primarily in TV, is a well made movie that bears all the hallmarks of a piece of work that is more meaningful to its creator than to its audience, even though Gray has overloaded his screenplay with themes that he perhaps feel will be universally familiar: essentially the struggle to escape your modest roots, and the frustrated ambitions these struggles provoke while maintaining a street-cred persona.
Talented and charismatic young actor Nick Thurston plays Brooklyn native Brian Leary, who hides his natural talent for art from his loving mother (Karen Allen) and harsh, hard-drinking father (Stephen Lang) by practicing it in the basement of his apartment building. His older brother Danny (Geoffrey Wigdor), lacking any such artistic skills, has drifted into a life of crime into which he repeatedly tries to draw his younger brother. Life at home is difficult; their father’s repeated beatings of Danny (but not Brian) is creating friction between the brothers, and when Danny learns that Brian’s boss at the failing Lafayette movie theatre has managed to engage the Rolling Stones for one night only, he hatches a plan to steal the takings, a decision that tests Brian’s loyalty and his sense of morality.
The performances in White Irish Drinkers are uniformly excellent, and John Gray’s direction is satisfyingly assured. Sadly, his skills as a writer are considerably less accomplished. Watching the film, you get the feeling that he has assembled the scenes while referring to a checklist of dramatic models that acknowledges all the expected emotions associated with a difficult upbringing without successfully capturing their essence. We never sympathise with the characters regardless of how deeply they appear to be suffering with their inner demons. And each major character is troubled by at least one inner demon, meaning that each of the principal actors gets their moment of emotional disclosure, complete with shaky voice and teary eyes. After a while it all becomes a bit ordinary, and you start waiting for the melodrama to pass so that Gray can get on with the story.
The plot is also something of a problem. For the most part it lacks inspiration, although it is partially redeemed by an unexpected twist towards the end. Up until this point it trundles along like a train on a track, pausing every now and then for those moments of emotional disclosure before continuing on its designated route. It’s the kind of story that’s been told a thousand times before, but which in the past has rarely failed to grasp exactly when it’s time to rein things in a little to prevent the story from becoming too overwrought. A couple of moments do stand out, however, and are worth mentioning here. The first is a scene in a working-class bar (disco-era John Travolta clones get very short shrift in this drinking hole) in which Brian finger-paints on a steamy window a portrait of the girl who has taken his fancy (Leslie Murphy, in a fairly thankless role), and the other is a conversation which he shares with the same girl in which he is mildly incredulous that she has never once in her life been hit. A brief exchange like that adds the kind of depth to a story and character that no number of tear-filled emotional revelations can ever do, and it‘s a shame that Gray couldn‘t conjure up a few more moments like that.