The roots of organised crime can be traced back to a family known as the Dunne gang in the 1970s in Dublin. This group of brothers and their associates paved the way for the likes of Martin Cahill and John Gilligan, and were instrumental in introducing the drugs trade to the capital. Though they were involved in all manner of crimes and violence, in 1985 when Larry Dunne was being jailed he left us with this stark warning; “If you think we were bad, wait til you see what’s coming after us.”
Stephen Gaffney’s latest feature length independent film, Class A, is a gritty and all too realistic look at the drugs trade as it stands in Ireland now. It follows the exploits of Vinny, a no-nonsense dealer with aspirations of a big score and one eye on an exit plan. Unfortunately for Vinny, he is hamstrung by a number of factors, not least of which is Warren, his psychotic partner and a corrupt cop who crosses their path and sets in motion a spiralling cyclone of violence and drug fuelled depravity.
Writer/director Gaffney is smart enough to keep the focus on Vinny, played with restrained menace by John Dalessandro, and the bare bones plot pulses steadily along as he desperately tries to get out ahead of one catastrophe after another. Aaron Blake is great as the unhinged Warren, and both actors inject an undercurrent of brutality into their roles that bubbles just beneath the surface, threatening to spill out at any moment. Once they spy an opportunity to significantly increase their business through a third party, it becomes clear that they may have bitten off more than they can chew and the film becomes a race to keep their plans from derailing and getting themselves locked up or killed in the process.
While the narrative hones in on the two leads and a small yet sharply written support cast, the cinematography exposes the seedy underbelly of the drugs trade and the devastating effects it can have on the people caught up in it. The camera doesn’t flinch, even at the most grim and appalling of images that are a sad reality for serious drug users and the men who proliferate their use in our streets.
Class A isn’t without fault, and at times there is a tendency to romanticise the idea that Vinny is doing what he is doing so he can provide a better quality of life for himself and his girlfriend. In a world that operates largely in the shade from normal society, the story is a little too eager to paint some of the characters as black and white and there is missed opportunity to scratch beyond the surface of what makes some of these characters tick. The dialogue too could do with a bit of polish, and while the vernacular is by and large spot on, the script has a swear count that would make Tarantino blush.
As far as urban dramas go though, this film is as callously honest as it gets when dealing with the subject matter at hand. If Love/Hate exposed mainstream audiences to what goes on in the alleyways, pubs and nightclubs in their cities, Class A peels back that facade with a scalpel and forces the viewer to stare down the whole bloody mess. Stephen Gaffney has marked himself as a real talent for pushing boundaries with controversial and topical subject matter. I can’t wait to see what’s coming after this.