Saturday, March 26, 2011

“White Irish Drinkers” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the drama “White Irish Drinkers”, starring Stephen Lang, Peter Riegert and Karen Allen and directed & written by John Gray.

A young man from a blue collar family aspires to a career as an artist – but when his older brother tries to drag him into a life of crime, will his life be ruined?


A recent high school graduate with little direction in life, Brian Leary works assisting Whitey (Riegert), the manager of a run-down movie theater that’s struggling to stay in business in the Brooklyn of 1975.  Occasionally, however, Brian gets dragged into burglary jobs planned by his older brother Danny, a career criminal.  But Brian isn’t really interested in this lifestyle – nor is he particularly good at it – it’s just that he looks up to his older brother and hopes to someday earn his acceptance.  In truth, Brian is a gifted painter who secretly wishes to pursue art as a career path. 

Brian and Danny live with their parents, Patrick (Lang) and Margaret (Allen), a pair of proud blue-collar workers surviving paycheck to paycheck despite the fact that Patrick spends way too much of their money drinking with his fellow neighborhood Irishmen.  While Margaret shows no favoritism to her sons, Patrick and Danny have a particularly difficult relationship, causing both Brian and Margaret to witness many brutal beatings endured by Danny at the hands of his drunken, angry father.  While the brothers argue with each other, they both harbor equal amounts of resentment toward Patrick. 

Quite unexpectedly, Whitey announces to Brian that business may suddenly improve – a chance meeting with the Rolling Stones’ road manager years ago allows Whitey the opportunity to call in a favor which gets the legendary rock band to book a one-night-only appearance at Whitey’s theater.  With Brian given the task of promoting the event, Danny sees an opportunity for a big payday – with a cash-only box office on the night of the concert, Danny decides to break into the theater and steal the money … but he can’t successfully do so without his brother’s help.  Will Brian risk his life, his job and his hopes for the future by aiding Danny in this crime?


This is one of those movies that feels a little bit off-balance:  although the more famous actors – Lang, Allen and Riegert – are given top-billing in the credits, they are not the focus of the story, which is more centered on the characters of Brian and Danny, played by lesser-known actors.  When the movie started, these three name actors were billed in the opening credits immediately after the title, leading me to believe that the movie’s tale would concern them when it in fact was not – they were instead relatively minor, peripheral supporting characters in the film.  As a result, this set my expectations incorrectly and caused me to be a little bit confused at the outset of the film until I re-adjusted once I realized the true central characters. 

You would think that a story about an Irish clan set in Brooklyn in the mid-70’s would be something right up my alley – and to a large degree, it was, but it wasn’t enough to make me recommend it that highly.  If it plays on TV at some point, then you might want to check it out, but certainly by no means is it worth rushing out to a movie theater to see.  Some of the things that I didn’t quite buy were the fact that Brian was able to keep his painting a secret from his mother for so long.  Also, the way Brian resolves his relationship with his father, while a bit of a surprise, didn’t quite make sense to me.  

By far, the best performance in the film was by Stephen Lang, who played a very believable hard-drinking, tough Irish loading dock worker that was also a strict dad and loyal husband.  Seeing his portrayal, I genuinely felt that I knew this guy, probably because I’d been around so many of them in my youth.  Therefore, it was with great delight when I discovered that Lang would be interviewed following the screening.  Lang compared the different experience of shooting this movie against a big budget film like “Avatar”; he stated that while you would think that working on a low-budget film such as this one might be less pleasurable, he assured everyone that this was not the case.  While he didn’t enjoy all of the frills he did in shooting “Avatar”, he was able to stay focused and wound up filming all of his scenes for the movie in a mere five days.  With “Avatar”, there were some days where he had to be on set extra early in order to get extensive make-up for several hours prior to beginning the day’s shooting; however, there were frequent times where he would just sit around all day and never get to act for one reason or another – technical problems, someone being sick, script changes, etc. 

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