The debut feature from writer and director Kevin Henry, Soulsmith is a brooding, reflective study of masculinity and a journey of self-discovery. Set among the beautiful rural countryside of Mayo and some of the quieter streets of Dublin, it works as almost a thinkpiece on modern Ireland and the joys and frustrations of living here, as experienced by its protagonist Ed Smith.
Smith is a once-successful playwright now going through a bit of a downturn. He is a ball of pent-up resentment and dissatisfaction, prone to outbursts of petty violence and spitting derision. As well as dealing with his floundering career he has the to confront the loss of a family member, something which prompts him to undertake a journey home.
Where the film works best is in the many interactions between Ed and his friends and family; interactions that serve to use some of these characters as a sounding board for Ed to offer his uncensored views on everything from politics to social media to society as a whole. Although a troubled and flawed character, there’s a depth of reality to Ed as he airs his grievances and struggles with the turmoil of properly processing his emotions in an articulate way.
Dealing with such a broad range of topical subject matters should serve only to tank any semblance of a structured narrative but the story is gracefully simple and neat. Ed’s return home to his roots to clear his head and press the reset button on his life is reliant on him offering up some vulnerability and rekindling relationships he previously would only seek to sabotage. It’s a skillfully written script to accomplish a feat such as this without asking a giant leap of faith of its audience.
Kevin Henry’s movie makes great use of the gorgeous backdrop offered up by county Mayo, as Ed’s trek home takes him to some stunning locations, all expertly captured by the lens of cinematographer Stephen Walsh. During the quieter moments of the story, those handsome shots serve to add an extra dimension to the sense of there being more to life that one’s own path, of a bigger picture at to it all.
Soulsmith is a movie brimming over with the passion the director clearly has for the story and it’s full of wonderful characters and clever writing. At the heart of it all is a story about struggling to find your place in the world, a story that resonates with a whole generation of people here. Like the story it’s built around, the journey is more important than the destination and Soulsmith is a quietly touching journey to take.