Cardboard Gangsters is a movie that has nothing new to say but says it very loudly and, occasionally with such conviction and style that it’s almost compelling.
An opening prologue, which features a group of children playing amongst derelict buildings before stumbling on a horrible scene, promises something heightened, something lyrical. However, once we meet the young men that these kids grown up to be, the plot settles into a tired template. We have Jason, a burly, level headed presence, capable of warmth as well as violence, who is drawn more and more in to the world of drug dealing in Darndale. Still hanging around with his three lifelong friends, he finds himself both seduced and forced into committing full time to life of crime, moving from being a dole queue outsider to the big man on the street. Naturally, the current king of the area isn’t going to take kindly to this.
The Irish crime flick comes of age with Cardboard Gangsters (18s), in which Jason Connolly (John Connors), ‘sick of waiting on line for a hand-out’, decides to muscle in on the drug trade on Dublin’s Darndale estates.
Aided (but largely abetted) by his buddies Whacker (Alan Clinch), Dano (Fionn Walton) and Glenner (Paul Alwright), Jason goes toe-to-toe with local gangland kingpin, Derra Murphy (Jimmy Smallhorne), a bravura act compounded by Jason’s inability to resist the temptation of leaping into bed with Derra’s wife Kim (Kierston Wareing) …
John Connors, who co-wrote, is wonderful in the lead role. Jason feels like a real person who has multiple sides to him and Connors plays him with menace, kindness and a steely coolness as needs be. He is, however surrounded by one dimensional personalities. Dano, the loud mouth of the group is introduced looking at the area’s Kingpin and saying ‘We should kill him. Then we’d be the boss’. Yes, we know. We’ve seen movies before. Fionn Walton, who plays Dano, is doing a complete 180 version of his quiet, thoughtful performance in 2013’s Out of Here. He’s near unrecognisable but you wish the script justified such a great, physical transformation. Similarly Glenner (Paul Alwright AKA Lethal Dialect) plays the angel to Dano’s devil on the hero’s shoulder convincingly. It’s a pity he hasn’t more to do than occasionally interject an ‘I dunno man, this is a bad idea’.
Opening in June 1944, Churchill (PG) stars Brian Cox as the British prime minister who finds himself at odds with the generals — and particularly Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Montgomery (Julian Wadham) — who have planned the do-or-die D-Day landings in Normandy.
Haunted by his own experience of slaughter during WWI, and particularly his personal failings when he sent thousands of men to their deaths at Gallipoli, Churchill resists the proposed ‘deadly gamble’ of the head-on beachhead assaults, only to find himself outmanoeuvred and side-lined as a man out of time.
There are several scenes of extreme violence that are effective and shocking but, at times, the film doesn’t know if it wants to cheer or boo what’s happening on screen. One moment involving an ill advised quickie in an alley is so obviously a grotty mistake. However, it’s scored as if this is a super cool thing to do.
Ultimately what drags Cardboard Gangsters down is that it has nothing new to say. It’s a film that you can’t fault for ambition but also one with the time worn message that crime is kinda cool but very dangerous. Beyond the ‘crime doesn’t pay’ morality this just doesn’t have anything on its mind.
Written by Alex von Tunzelmann and directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, Churchill is a fascinating character study of grace under pressure, as Churchill comes to realise, belatedly, that he is no longer regarded as the force of nature who rallied Britain during the Blitz.
Brian Cox is in superb form as the cigar-chomping old curmudgeon who rambles about growling like a wounded bear, although it’s in the second half of the film, when we get behind the legend to see the vulnerability and emotional frailty of a man who has outlived his political usefulness, that Cox truly shines.
It’s by no means a one-man show, however, with Miranda Richardson stealing every scene she’s in as the long-suffering Clementine Churchill, and Richard Durden, as Churchill’s old sparring partner Jan Smuts, deliciously understated as the voice of reason whispering caution in the firebrand’s ear.
Composed in the main of documentary footage of a European tour in 1999, when Whitney was already visibly struggling to cope with a myriad of pressures, and straight-to-camera interviews with former members of her backing band, the film pieces together a mosaic in which we discover a woman far more complex and tortured than the airbrushing of the PR machine ever allowed.
Her tempestuous relationships with Bobby Brown and her soulmate Robyn Crawford played their part, but her complicated personal life also spilled over into Houston’s frustration at being manufactured as a pop princess when her musical inspirations and instincts lay elsewhere, an artistic dissatisfaction that manifested itself in prolonged drug abuse that eventually ate into her capacity to perform to the dizzyingly high standards she set herself.
It’s a sobering, absorbing glimpse behind the scenes into the ruins of a life that had so much to give, though Whitney’s fans may be disappointed at how little time Broomfield and Dolezal devote to diving deep into not only Whitney’s professional career, but also the extent to which she was a ground-breaking talent who paved the way for so many artists who followed her.
The comparisons with Love/Hate are unavoidable, but it’s by no means a stretch to suggest that Cardboard Gangsters is an Irish Little Caesar, charting as it does the mercurial rise of a feral criminal who recognises no law but his own.
More of a strategist than his impulsive friends, Jason understands the extent to which the system is rigged against him; for all his innate intelligence, however, Jason also understands that in ‘the jungle’ (aka Darndale), only the strongest, the cruellest and the most ruthless thrive.
Caustically funny, the doom-laden plot doesn’t throw up too many surprises, mainly because Mark O’Connor and John Connors adhere to the classic noir story arc, but the film powers along on the strength of Connors’ phenomenal performance as he creates an anti-hero who is by turns charismatic, repellent, sympathetic and ultimately tragic.