After the release of his first feature Pilgrim Hill, set around the life of a bachelor farmer in rural Ireland, Gerard Barrett wasted no time in moving on to his next. Glassland follows Dublin taxi driver John (Jack Reynor) who lives with his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette) and his struggle to get her on the wagon despite their poverty.
A remarkable cast has undoubtedly been gathered for the film, and Reynor in the starring role hits all the right notes when he’s called upon. In the film’s superior second half when he is called upon to evoke emotions he does so reliably, even brilliantly. What lets the film down is its rather uncertain screenplay, which has an inconsistent tone, starting off dour and depressing before moving on to character comedy then into suspense thriller, the latter element going unresolved.
In a similar vein, while the characters thankfully avoid falling into easy stereotypes, there are moments that feel disingenuous or contrived. When Jean and Jack are having a heart-to-heart moment towards the middle of the film, Jean reveals in very explicit and shameless detail her feelings towards her Down’s Syndrome suffering son. It is to his birth eighteen years previously that she attributes her subsequent downfall in a scene that seems to want too much to paint Jean as a bad person who is aware of her ill feelings towards her son but not aware enough to realise or care how awful she sounds.
In terms of direction we’re in rather standard territory. A visual trope occurs several times in which a shot of movement will jump cut to the same shot only with perfect stillness, such as a car going from moving to still or a character dancing to standing still. But this does little besides make you feel a bit motion sick. Otherwise it’s competently shot.
As a film dealing with the effects of alcoholism on a family it is effective. Due to the strength of both Reynor and Collette in their respective roles we sympathise with their situation. A problem then arises when the film feels like its playing social issue bingo, as it shoe-horns in a bit about emigration and another bit about human trafficking. These moments undermine the credible emotional undertone of the film and confuse what the film is supposed to be about.
There’s a touch of Abrahamson-lite to Glassland that goes deeper than Barrett’s sharing a leading man with the What Richard Did director. Abrahamson’s patient realism flows through the veins of this film in terms of photography, temperament and pace as well as in the conception of the film as a socially aware piece. The film progresses in fits and starts but it nonetheless has enough moments and acting performances sufficient to make it an interesting watch. In cinemas 17 April 2015. Watch the trailer here.