(Gerard Barrett, 2014)
You need to have directorial chops to find the visual poetry in a place as un-lovely as the nothing suburbs on the edge of Dublin. But Gerard Barrett does it in Glassland, finding beauty and lyricism in what looks like an autumnal Tallaght. That goes some way to lightening the experience of watching Glassland, for this is an unapologetically, at times almost unbearably intense drama.
The elliptical storytelling allows the mood to settle in before we really appreciate what the story is about. John (Jack Reynor) is a young taxi driver, who lives at home with his mother (Toni Collette), an alcoholic close to liver failure. He has a younger brother, Kit, who has Downs Syndrome and seems to live in a home. His best friend, Shane (Will Poulter) is struggling with paying child support and feeling as if his life is going nowhere, and has booked flights to travel or work abroad.
That isn't much of a story, really. And yet: our first encounter with John's Mam finds her unconscious in a pool of her own vomit and we watch him struggle to get her to hospital, where a doctor tells him either she quits drinking, or she dies. That acts as a clock under the rest of the action. John lives his life - doing his job, seeing his mate - and tries to figure out how to help somebody who doesn't want to be helped.
That seems to be his thing. An almost saintly presence, John helps everyone around him, and the film is really a quiet, slow, extraordinarily subtle character study of a little boy in the body of a man. Being a good boy, doing the right thing, John often looks lost. Most scenes find him gazing soulfully into the middle distance. He supports Shane, visits and obviously loves Kit, cleans up his Mam. He resists Shane's offer to leave with him. His emotional explosion in the car with his mother outside a clinic is all about him, and reveals the needy, frightened child inside him: he can't do it anymore, he wants his Mam back.
Reynor is exceptional here, his sensitive eyes and hunched, tight body language showing us John's real feelings through the smile he often wears. Collette matches him. Her accent is wobbly (though she always sounds Irish, it moves from county to county throughout) but emotionally she is frighteningly raw and honest, and her long monologue to John on how she got to be where she is is absolutely hypnotic. Poulter and Smiley are great in support.
All of them are nicely directed by Barrett, who looks a young director with a big future. His work here is precise and nuanced, with a fine, sensual feel for texture and atmosphere. Few films have captured Dublin suburbia in the milky light of autumn as well as this one does, and to combine that with a grip on storytelling like the one shown here is no small achievement.