0360 | Glassland


Glassland is a tough watch, as it should be; this Dublin-set story is concerned with the struggles of an alcoholic (Toni Colette, successfully camouflaging her Australian accent) and the related woes of her carer/taxi driver son (played by Jack Reynor, also impressive), whose impotence in the face of his mother’s illness leaves him immensely frustrated. The tone is set within five minutes as Reynor’s John finds Colette’s Jean passed out in bed and surrounded by her own vomit; in the wake of this near-death experience there are only fleeting scenes that offer any semblance of hope, and much of Gerard Barrett’s second film (his first, Pilgrim Hill, received positive notices) focuses on John’s despair as he works long hours and returns home each morning to empty bottles, a messy house and an unconscious mother.

The flickering moments of happiness do appear with some regularity: Jean and John bond over a bottle of wine and a dash of Soft Cell, but the frivolity soon gives way to a monologue that is heavy on pathos as Jean explains her reasons for the non-existent relationship with second child Kit (Harry Nagle), who has Down’s syndrome. Meanwhile John’s mouthy best friend Shane (Will Poulter) represents a glimpse of a life with slightly better fortune: his mum cares for him deeply and Shane is able to leave Dublin to look for work, with jobs apparently scarce in the capital.

John can’t follow, and is tethered to the city because of an overwhelming sense of duty. He works at night, usually ferrying prostitutes to their clients, but the job keeps him out of the house and offers some respite from the troubles at home. Reynor’s character is trapped by circumstance and duty, though, and there appears to be no easy solution for him in this kitchen sink drama; Ireland’s Heath Service Executive is painted in a negative light and in order to treat Jean’s illness John must burden himself with new financial pressures. Little wonder that by the end of the film he seems utterly exhausted by the experience (though there is, thankfully, a final optimistic note). glasslandShot under dark skies that seem permanently ready to soak the streets below, Glassland has a wholly-necessary bleakness and the external, colour-drained scenes are generally complemented by dark, naturally-lit interiors. As a study of alcoholism it is weighted in favour of the carer, but there is still plenty of insight into the mindset of an alcoholic and Barrett explores the relationship between mother and son thoroughly (fathers are absent in this film, except for one short scene in which we learn that Shane has fathered a child at a young age; it looks as if he is separated from the child’s mother and has little to do with the baby in question). This is a raw, upsetting film, though given the subject matter that’s hardly a surprise, and it is terrifically-acted.

Directed by: Gerard Barrett.
Written by: Gerard Barrett.
Starring: Jack Reynor, Toni Colette, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley.
Cinematography: Piers McGrail.
Editing: Nathan Nugent.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Year: 2015.

Comments 12

  1. Tom September 19, 2015

    Very interesting to read about. Never heard of this, but I’m struck by two things: Toni Collette is really making the rounds right now (which is a great thing, b/c she is immensely talented and been on my radar since The Way, Way Back); and two, I would love to see how Harry Nagle plays out in this. Without trying to sound too crass or insensitive I haven’t seen too many actors with Down’s Syndrome in high profile roles, aside from one I recently saw in a low-key comedy called Addicted to Fresno. I love seeing casting like that.

    • Stu September 21, 2015

      Thanks Tom. Colette is excellent here and is one of the best actresses working today for me. I haven’t seen her standards drop once, though I certainly haven’t seen everything she has made. Harry Nagle is only in a couple of scenes, and doesn’t get more than a handful of lines, so it’s a minor role; the focus is really on Colette and Reynor.

  2. Jordan Dodd September 20, 2015

    I’m with Tom, interesting read. I have never heard of this but you have me wanting to watch it. I’m especially interested also cos Toni Collette is in it, sounds like she does well with the accent

    • Stu September 22, 2015

      This is a very dark film, and I guess the subject matter requires that kind of treatment, but there are moments of hope as the story plays out. It’s worth seeing if you’re ever in the mood, though.

      • Todd Benefiel September 22, 2015

        AND if I can ever track it down! I’m in the midst of a free trial of Netflix, and am discovering that the selection for streaming is not all it’s cracked up to be: Clint Eastwood has ONE film to stream, for chrissake! I’m beginning to wonder if my personal collection of movies offers more of a selection! But if I have the chance somehow, I will check this one out, as well as the host of others you’ve recommended but are tough for me to find.

        • Stu September 23, 2015

          I was disappointed with Netflix when I first joined, although I must admit I have tonnes of films and TV shows queued up now, so I think there is some good stuff there, but it’s not always easy to find it. It’s a shame the US Netflix differs from the UK one as I could recommend all manner of films you might actually hate! Actually this might be useful…
          That said…how any streaming service can call itself a streaming service and only feature one Clint Eastwood film is beyond me. I’ll bet a year’s subscription to Popcorn Nights that it’s Firefox, too.

        • Todd Benefiel September 23, 2015

          Hey, thanks for the link…I took a quick glance and already found several films I’d like to check out. And that lone Eastwood film? Escape from Alcatraz! (Please donate my prize to a worthy cause).

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