Middletown: Review from Cork Film Festival (Oct 2006)

51st Cork Film Festival: Highlights

Middletown By Iain Houten and Michael John O’Shea

Director: Brian Kirk

Running time: 88 minutes

As the most high-profile home-grown film at the festival, the screening of Middletown was met with keen interest. Supported by well known actors and directed by prolific programme maker Brian Kirk, it tells the story of Gabriel(Matthew McFadyen ), a man who in his early youth is urged by his Father and the village Reverend to answer Gods calling and become a preacher of the faith. Cut to fifteen years later and the village has fallen into an apparent state of Godlessness. The ailing Reverend is retiring and Gabriel returns from the missions in Africa to take his place. The film examines the friction that occurs between Gabriel, his family and the entire village as he attempts to reinstate Biblical law. He becomes compelled beyond reason to cleanse his flock, creating more evil than he could ever have hoped to vanquish.

The film is set in the sixty's, and feels like a cross between "Heartbeat" and "Song for a Raggy Boy". The concept is solid and the cast is strong, but the film is let down by weak character's that are hard to relate to or feel anything for. The rants of Gabriel become tedious and flaccid, and his unexplained attitude is puzzling. Eva Birthistle does a good job as his headstrong sister-in-law Caroline, and popular actors like Mick Lally and Gerard McSorely give a familiar feel to the film. Daniel Mays gives a promising performance as Gabriel's brother Jim, a man torn between his pregnant wife and his bellowing sibling,, and McFadyen does his reputation no harm with a measured performance.

Middletown is a tour de force of Irish talent coupled with a slick style, but is ultimately let down by a thin plot. Religion is a contentious subject, and at least Kirk had the balls to make this film, which in my mind marks him out as one to watch.