Guest review from Irish filmmaker Aaron Moran
The film starts off in the past, introducing our criminal quartet as children and life long friends. Michael Lavelle’s cinematography has a dream like sense of nostalgia at the beginning, before we are quickly shunted forward to the grim and gritty present. Here we meet the main cast: co-writer John Connors plays Jay, the quiet leader of the pack, who is attempting to keep his relationships intact whilst balancing caring for his mother financially, and having a good time with his friends. A key member of his group is Fionn Walton, in a complete role reversal from his work in What Richard Did, playing the violent live-wire of the group, the combustible match to Jay’s simmering anger. The crew is rounded off with Cobbie (Ryan Lincoln), playing the more calm and amiable member of the group. Elsewhere Tristan Heanue displays the other side of the oulaw coin, playing Kieran Cummins, one of the members of An Garda Siochana.
Cardboard Gangsters sees Connors’ Jay being pushed into a situation where he needs cash quick and thus, him and his (mostly) eager crew start selling drugs around their fictional estate in Darndale, bringing them the unwanted attention of the drug dealing king of the hill, Derra Murphy, played by Jimmy Smallhorne. This sets off a violent game of revenge and retribution where no one leaves unscathed.
The real problem here is that this story has all the components for a thrilling narrative but it lacks a single compelling character. Everyone, from the mob boss to the seemingly incompetent guards, are archetypes that audiences have seen time and time again in gangster films. The script delivers nothing we haven’t seen before, and in a tale of gangsters getting in over their heads you really need to offer something fresh if you want your film to stand out from the pack. Unfortunately O’Connor’s film never rises to the occasion. In a post Love/Hate world, a film like Cardboard Gangsters really needs to go the extra mile to justify its existence and unfortunately it does not. Director Mark O’Connor gets strong performances from his young cast and has a real sense of authenticity in its use of locations and soundtrack, but he and co-writer Connors struggle to find something new to say about Ireland’s gangland culture that hasn’t already been covered in Stuart Carolan’s superior examination.