Film Review: Jack Reynor shines in Gerard Barrett’s Glassland

Film Review: Jack Reynor shines in Gerard Barrett’s Glassland

“EVERY DAY is the same game — I’m just spinning the wheels,” is the sad musing of Dublin taxi-driver John (Jack Reynor), the weary central character in Gerard Barrett’s Glassland.

Offering an exquisite slice of one man’s daily life, Barrett’s film puts the ‘B’ in bleak but also puts viewers in the picture.

An award winner at both Galway and Sundance, Glassland is Barrett’s second feature.

His first, Pilgrim Hill (2013), won the Kerry man the Rising Star IFTA for its portrayal of hardship and drudgery in rural Irish life.

Effectively mixing a kind of Russian naturalism with British kitchen-sink drama, Pilgrim Hill showed an isolated farmer (Joe Mullins) feeling desperately trapped on the family home place.

Critical evaluation for the movie was mixed. One commentator termed it “misery porn”; another called it “a masterly debut.”

Glassland is likely to similarly divide opinion.

Barrett tackles that old ironic puzzle that ponders how to tell a story about boredom without being boring. It requires a delicate touch to depict quotidian struggle and tedium without sending the audience to sleep. Barrett sustains that fine balance, but only just.

glassland-toni-collette-jack-reynor-n Jack Reynor and Toni Collette in Glassland

He’s assisted in this by a strong cast. Jack Reynor, born to an Irish mother in Canada, moved to Humphrystown, Co. Wicklow at the age of two.

The ever-compelling Reynor is powerfully supported by Toni Collette, Will Poulter and notably by newcomer Harry Nagle (an actor with Down’s Syndrome).

Reynor’s John is a decent guy whose humdrum mini-cabbing job is counterpointed by mounting drama in his home life.

His mother Jean (Collette) is a hopeless and aggressive drunk, who is unreconciled with her younger son Kit (Nagle) and his physical disability.

Some lighthearted respite comes in the guise of John’s mate Shane (Poulter), a likeable buffoon who tries to persuade John to emigrate.

Matters turn more sinister when John is drawn into the criminal underworld, driven by the need of cash to fund treatment for his mother’s alcoholism.

Apart from this single plot development, though, the movie’s main intrigue is in watching the characters’ interaction. Reynor enjoys great screen chemistry with his fellow performers, particularly with Collette.

His understated style is compelling. Few actors can express an emotional shift so profoundly, as Reynor does here, by the way they remove their baseball cap.

Aside from the odd lapse into sentimentality, Barrett holds to a sparse, unvarnished tone throughout. He should be applauded for the daring demands he asks of his audience.

It’s courageous that he expects to keep the viewer’s interest merely through characterisation, situation and oblique explanation.

Like other interesting young Turks currently emerging in Irish cinema — Mark O’Connor, Terry McMahon, Lance Daly — Barrett is well worth watching.

Glassland opens in Britain and Ireland cinemas on Friday, April 17