13 January 2008 | gradyharp
The Disintegration of a Family
BLACK IRISH is one of those little Independent films that manage to give more to the audience than the extreme constrictions of time and budget would suggest. Writer/director Brad Gunn (his first film) manages to tell a story about an Irish family from South Boston that is sincere, realistic, poignant, and profound, and though he worked with a small budget and a shooting schedule of 22 days, he has produced a fine little gem of a film.
The McKay family has problems: father Desmond (Brendan Glesson) lacks work and spends most of his time drinking beer and watching baseball on TV, having been a promising baseball player as a youngster but nipped by the Vietnam War into glum lethargy; mother Margaret (Melissa Leo) resents the shadow of the man she married and works as a social worker to support her family; daughter Kathleen (Emily VanKamp) is pregnant, unwed, and when denied the choice of abortion by her mother's strong Catholicism is determined to have the child by herself, giving it the loving home she feels she has been denied; son Terry (Tom Guiry) is a tortured delinquent who is a gang member and always in conflict with the law; and youngest son Cole (the excellent young 20-year-old Michael Angarano of 'One Last Thing', 'Man in the Chair', 'Snow Angels', 'Lords of Dogtown', 'Seabiscuit', etc) is conflicted by wanting to be a priest versus wanting to be a professional baseball player - he is the good kid and the last hope of his parents.
Terry tricks Cole into accompanying a house break-in and the trouble begins. The financial crisis at home drives Cole to get a job in a restaurant, and drives Desmond to menial work shining shoes. The family will support Kathleen's pregnancy, but that strips the income to the point that Cole must leave his Catholic school to be in public school, and while that seems to dash his hopes for a career in baseball, the coach at his public school (Finn Curtin) acknowledges Cole's talent and promises a future. Terry's lifestyle as a hoodlum presents increasing problems and at one point Cole gathers the courage to confront Terry during a robbery plot at Cole's work place and Terry is seriously wounded. We discover a hidden fact about Desmond that explains some of his sociopath behavior to his family and it is this discovery, coinciding with Terry's gunshot injury and Kathleen's tough life as an unwed working pregnant girl, that pulls the family unit back together.
If the plot sound like soap opera rest assured it is not. This is an intensely realistic examination of a fragile Irish Catholic family striving to makes sense of a world that is increasingly chaotic. All of the actors are excellent, but the extraordinary sensitivity and skill of young Michael Angarano make this a film to cherish. And Brad Gann is assuredly a talent to watch! Very highly recommended. Grady Harp