Images courtesy of MANIFF
Director: Mark O’Connor
Starring: John Connors
Directed by Mark O’Connor and shot on location in Darndale, Dublin, Cardboard Gangsters is a low budget crime thriller about the extreme measures a man will take to provide for his family. The modest film stars John Connors as Jason, a struggling DJ who turns to dealing drugs when his benefits is cut off. We watch as he transforms into a violent and ruthless drug dealer, driven by money, sex and power. He wants to escape his sordid hometown as well as his criminal lifestyle by starting a new life in Spain but a gangland war breaks out before he has the chance.
Ireland is critically underrepresented in both cinema and television, making Cardboard Gangsters in many ways a breath of fresh air. It is unapologetically working-class and Irish, much like its colourful characters who run, fight and party across the screen.
The lead actor’s vulnerability in his role is tangible. He says his performance was based on his own personal experiences in Darndale, where he grew up and still lives. As well as acting he also co-wrote the film with the director. Many of the scenes were improvised, adding to the authenticity and realism. The stand-out scene in which he smashes his bedroom in frustration was shot in one take, and was filmed in the actor’s own bedroom. Connor’s impressive performance does not overshadow his co-stars however. Each performance seems genuine and representative of a real community. Many of the supporting actors were Connors’ own friends and one actor was even out on parole to film. Cardboard Gangsters is not a contrived, elegant drama but a gritty, real one.
However, the film is not without its faults. The soundtrack, which consists of Irish hip-hop and techno, has been lauded by critics as refreshing, but at times it felt like a music video, downplaying the action that takes place onscreen. Some scenes would have been better in silence. The female characters feel drastically underwritten compared to the vibrant male roles which makes the film frustrating at times. The sex scenes feel awkward and expose a lack of chemistry between the characters which, if executed better, could have added a new dimension to the film.
Cardboard Gangsters is an undeniably unique and fascinating insight into crime and poverty in Dublin. Fans of Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen and Peter Mullan’s Neds will find it an interesting viewing.
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