Every year there are a few worthwhile movies that go wholly unnoticed by the general movie-going public. Sometimes the marketing is poor or the topic unappealing. Other times, the movie is picked up by a small distributor or receives a less-than-prominent release. Such is the case with White Irish Drinkers, a movie that few, unfortunately, have seen, let alone heard of.
White Irish Drinkers is routine in many ways, in that you've probably seen a movie just like it before. Set in Brooklyn in 1975, the John Gray drama is a coming-of-age tale about two brothers, one who has accepted life in the crime-filled neighbor, the other who is considering leaving for something more than just a mediocre existence. It's a story that has been played out many times before, often in a similar setting and with similar characters.
But White Irish Drinkers stands out in several ways, most notably the writing and acting. Gray, who also wrote the film, has created a variety of interesting characters, including Brian Leary, the lead protagonist. Played adeptly by Nick Thurston, Brian is a young man who could go many ways: he could stay in the neighborhood, getting by but accomplishing little; he could become like his brother Danny (played by Ben Affleck lookalike Geoffrey Wigdor), a petty criminal; or he could pursue his dream to become an artist and leave Brooklyn once and for all.
Leslie Murphy plays Brian's love interest Shauna, an intelligent, motivated young woman who also desperately wants to get out, but finds it harder than initially thought. The chemistry between Thurston and Murphy is excellent, the scenes they share among the film's highlights.
Karen Allen also does a good job as Brian and Danny's understated mother, making up just a little bit for returning to the Indiana Jones franchise.
The real stand-out, and the real reason why White Irish Drinkers separates itself from other like-minded films, is the performance by Stephen Lang (Avatar). He plays the boys' father and a perpetual drunk, a verbally and at times physically abusive man that mumbles and stammers through life, barely making ends meet. Yet what could have been a thin-layered character is given complexity by Lang, who establishes an emotional, somber and tragic ambience that, while impossible to love, makes him hard to hate. Had White Irish Drinkers seen a more prominent release, it's not impossible to imagine award consideration for Lang.
White Irish Drinkers does falter a bit toward the end as the movie's stereotyped genre begins to catch up with it. The movie takes a rather cliché and predictable turn at the end that lessens its overall impact; it would have been more interesting to see Gray go a different direction, opting for a more subtle and less generic climax. Nevertheless, White Irish Drinkers is a well acted and engaging little drama that deserves to be seen by more people.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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