Thursday 8 November 2012


(Leonard Abrahamson, 2004)

This modest Irish film is a tragi-comedy which follows 24 hours in the lives of the titular characters, a pair of childhood friends turned junkies, as they wander Dublin in search of money and their next fix. Sounds hilarious, I know. But it maintains an almost Beckettian grim humour from the first scene, when the duo awake in a wasteland behind the formerly notorious Ballymun estate. The tall one - they are never assigned names, and people greet them with "Alright Adam and Paul?" - finds himself glued to a mattress and the first words uttered are "Ah for fucks sake." They swear throughout, as do most of the people they encounter in the course of their day, which is extremely authentic to Dublin. The comedy mainly comes from the small one, who is the slapstick clown of the pair. He is clipped by a moped crossing the street: "Me fuckin leeggg!!" He hurts his hand trying to smash a car window: "Me fuckin hand!!" He throws up by the side of a motorway, he takes an emergency shit crouched in an alley ("I'm not wipin meself with a tayto bag") and he bungles an attempt at shoplifting, then cannot even open the milk carton he has escaped with. He maintains a pathetic, whining tone throughout. And yet he is the more sympathetic of the two, his puppyish eyes and dependence on his friend and constant repetition of "sorry" making him seem absurdly vulnerable and pitiful. He bemoans their life when they are at their lowest: "Why can't things be easy, just for once...and to be lucky?"

There is also comedy in the duo's slow-motion verbal ping-pong, underlined by their slack-mouthed, heavy-lidded, slow-blinking smackhead personas. The tall one is the boss, the thinker, and he carries an air of grim regret and melancholy, as if he knows what he is and is helpless to do anything about it. When they are reunited with their old friend, the now clean Janine (in a lovely, silent moment of imagined mental communion), it is suggested that he may even be the father of her infant child. But he is determined in his pursuit of their next high. He carries on, without looking back, dragging the small one in his wake. They are outsiders, always out of place in company, their smalltalk stilted and awkward. They meet some acquantances in a park and it is like a scene from a wildlife documentary - a pack including children, two women and a watchful alpha male are encountered by these two comedically predatory rogue males. The male, in due course, warns the pair off. But they are never sentimentalised or glamorized. They ruthlessly mug a downs syndrome boy they see waiting for a bus. They are close to stealing Janine's new tv. The narrative is sprinkled with suggestions about their role in the death of Matthew, an old friend and fellow junkie whose funeral they have attended a month before (and whose family they encounter). They seem stunned and unsurprisingly numb at the grief they encounter, their immersion in their own addiction blotting out all else for them. And the film, to its great credit, does not shy away from giving that addction a sort of climax. Adam and Paul do score, and their high is depicted as an extraordinary, blissful rapture. The film's colour palette briefly changes, as does the music, and the screen is aglow for one scene, full of light and vivid imagery. This high is eventually followed by the inevitable consequences, however, and they give the film a moving, low key ending, as do the terrific performances from Tom Murphy and Mark O'Halloran.
Adam & Paul perfectly captures the grey, grimy, litter-strewn streets of Dublin's Inner city, the working class heart that still beats on the outskirts of the tourist-choked area of the centre. Aside from the heroin scene, the colours are muted throughout, the skies overcast, the sunlight hazy and diffuse. Skin tone is mottled, colours lose their allure under the dull weather of an Irish midwinter. Abrahamson is a subtle stylist, seldom moving his camera but choosing his shots economically. He indulges himself with a few moments of hard urban poetry in his many compositions showing Adam and Paul as figures framed against a landscape, whether it be crossing a rain-soaked back-street or begging on a corner. He seems interested in modern Dublin and how it works as a city. Adam and Paul exist in the margins, flitting between mainstream lives. There they encounter a Bulgarian man, allowing Abrahamson to examine the complex relationship the Irish - a traditionally emigrant people - have with the Immigrants who have recently flooded their newly wealthy country. He exposes their prejudices ("Yeah, Our Country," the tall one says. "Fuck off back to Romania") before telling them that Dublin is a shithole, full of Romanians. Earlier, a homeless man has berated a store security guard by yelling "You wouldnt have thrown us out if we were black!" Adam and Paul, though definitely outsiders within Dublin, still see themselves above the foreigners filling its most menial positions, and even Irish people from outside the city - "Fuck off back to the country" they shout to another security guard.
Films set in the World's legitimately great citys often rely on a shorthand. Heres a shot of the Eiffel Tower. Look, its Big Ben, and theres a Red bus. That sort of thing. Nothing in Dublin is as instantly recognisable, except to its inhabitants. Abrahamson steafastly refuses any cheap establishing shot and avoids most recognisable landmarks to emphasise his heroes strange isolation. Until the High, that is, which occurs on one of the Liffey's bridges, and the haunting final scene, when one of Dublin's most recognisable Industrial structures towers in the background in what seems an ironic thumb of the nose at the very idea of such gestures. This contrarian streak is itself a very Dublin trait, and it may have helped Abrahamson make what is the greatest film about the city.

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