Out in cinemas on June 16th is Cardboard Gangsters starring John Connors from a script written by Connors himself with Mark O’Connor. The story of Cardboard Gangsters follows Jason Connolly (Connors), a young man from Darndale in Dublin. He lives with his mother and hangs around the neighbourhood with his childhood friends Dano (Fionn Walton) Glenner (Paul Alright) and Cobbie (Ryan Lincoln). He lives a relatively unremarkable life DJing on the weekend and scraping by to save up for a life in Spain. Then one day a glimmer of a better life offers itself to Jason and his friends, the cost of this “better” life, however, could be too much for Jason and his comrades.
John Connors and Mark O’Connor have crafted a world filled with grime and broken promises with actual people, not characters. Darndale is its own character, it’s heavily scarred, and the people that inhabit it are only making matters worse. A prime candidate for this poisonous element is Derra Murphy (Jimmy Smallhorne) who controls the majority of the drug trafficking in Darndale with an iron fist. He comes into conflict with Jason several times throughout the film and each time the situation escalates, think of something akin to a boxing match and as each round begins the two combatants are becoming more desperate and vicious. And this is another interesting element of Cardboard Gangsters, the violence on show is bloody and authentic, so authentic that at times I found myself having to turn away from it. O’Connor knows when to use the dramatic effect of violence to its fullest potential, pulling the reigns back to give intimate moments of terror and then ramping up the intensity when it needs to feel necessary to the narrative.
The violence of Cardboard Gangsters is not the only aspect that has an authenticity to it though; the score also brings an all too familiar sense of reality with it. Many of the scenes are filled with the techno beats young Irish people grew up with, some would say to annoy their parents and authority figures, and this banging score is accompanied by an exotic cinematic flair. The people of Darndale and Coolock are put on show here warts and all, and you get to see the various shades of life that these people have to live in. They openly discuss drugs at playgrounds, chit chat about killing their competitors in nightclubs and they brandish guns in family homes almost as if they were second nature.
These are just a small portion of the disturbing scenes within Carboard Gangsters, a particular highlight for myself includes Jason, Dano and a chainsaw but I’ll say no more on that. On the character of Dano, Fionn Walton steals a lot of scenes as the headstrong fool of Jason’s group. He’s got a charm that wants you to hate him, but your eyes are always drawn to him when he’s in a scene. His first scene was such a fascinating look at the kind of individuals who can be born in areas like Darndale. There is a fence between him and another character and the way the scene is framed and the way he moves he comes across as a caged lion, a dangerous creature that could bring down a lot of destruction on everyone around him, friend and foe.
If there were any issues it was the slight predictability of the overall story. A young, smart, up and coming gangster with a heart of gold who wishes to rise above his ranks is nothing original and even the innovative screenplay hits some familiar story beats as the film comes crashing to its bloody end. Ultimately though this sense of familiarity doesn’t stop Cardboard Gangsters from being a must see at the cinema with its blockbuster performances and harrowing human moments.