Cardboard Gangsters – Film Review

Director: Mark O’ Connor

Starring: John Connors, Kierston Wareing and Paul Alwright

Release Date: 16 Jun

The continual poverty-fetishisation in Irish gangster films is something that bears discussion. For too long now have the working class suffered a hatchet-job at the hands of filmmakers trying to make a buck off the plight of ordinary people.

Almost every time a Dublin-set crime film gets released, we’re treated to lazy, patronising stereotypes by middle-class directors who’ve rarely set foot north of the Liffey, let alone witnessed a heroin deal or drive-by-shooting.

If your only exposure to Dublin is through the Irish filmic canon, you’d be forgiven for thinking our capital city was exclusively comprised of inner-city flats and council estates, occupied by smart-arse drug dealers and their poor oul’ innocent mammies.
With never a lick of irony or subtext on display, we’re treated again and again to films that absolutely relish in the “coolness” of young Dublin males riding around on dirt bikes and shooting their best friends in the face for an ounce of coke.

Cardboard Gangsters is yet another such film with absolutely nothing original or memorable to say on the subject of Irish crime. Writer/director Mark O’Connor once again reunites with John Connors (Love/Hate) after their films Stalker and King of the Travellers.
Set in Northside Dublin’s Darndale area, Cardboard Gangsters follows the lives of a group of young men breaking into the Darndale drug trade. What transpires over the next 90 minutes will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen an Irish gangster movie before.

Boasting what at times feels like an overwhelming cast of characters, the film is primarily written as a vehicle for (the admittedly excellent) John Connors.
While playing a gangster is hardly a stretch for Connors after his stint on Love/Hate, he manages to shine through in the otherwise unmemorable film.

The film works best when it focuses on Connors but for the rest of its runtime, it flits back and forth between scenes attempting to juggle the underdeveloped supporting cast. O’Connor has absolutely packed his film with minor characters and plots but the scope and ambition of his story really feels like something more suited to a lengthier television series than a 90-minute film.
In particular, a promising IRA subplot that ends with a nod to Scarface never really gets off the ground.

Where the film succeeds is mainly at the technical level. As mentioned above, O’Connor directs Connors to an excellent performance. Connors totally inhabits his character and turns in the most believable work in the film. He’s a genuine talent in Irish acting and should be huge.
Michael Lavelle’s cinematography also manages to paint some striking visuals, most notably a man snorting cocaine off a samurai sword. Daniel Doherty’s score, comprised mainly of Irish hip-hop, is another highlight of the film.

O’Connor is tipped to develop a TV series and, based on what’s on show here, the expanded nature of the format might better suit his ambitions.
Fans of crime drama might get a kick out of Cardboard Gangsters but for everyone else, give it a miss.

Score: 2/5
Written by Julian Callan

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