Cardboard Gangsters Review
It wouldn’t take much to transplant Mark O'Connor's Dublin based gangster film over to this side of the Irish Sea, seeing as it runs through many of the tired genre tropes we have seen plundered time and again. What it lacks in originality it just about makes up for with a charismatic lead performance by John Connors, while also showing a part of Ireland not really seen on screen too frequently in the UK. The setting is Dublin's Darndale housing estate, a part of the city where little expectation is placed upon the residents' shoulders and hope is just as glaringly absent.
The story was originally the brainchild of Connors himself, before handing over the reins to director Mark O’Connor to shape into his own vision. Connors is Jason Connolly, born, raised and still living with his ma in Darndale, a budding DJ who tops up his benefit money with a handful of gigs and by selling a few "yokes" (Es) on the estate with his mates. Being the tight-knit community that it is, the Social soon get wind and freeze his benefit while they look into his case. The big man is strapped for cash and watches on as his ma struggles to pay off the local loan shark, who works for the neighbourhood drug kingpin Derra (Jimmy Smallhorne).
The scene is set for a rapid rags-to-riches rise through the local ranks once Jason and his mouthy right hand man Dano (Fionn Walton) decide to muscle in on Derra’s territory. While Dano is all mouth and no trousers, Jason quickly earns a reputation for his no nonsense approach and soon enough their small crew are rolling in the cash. The turns taken from here will be of no surprise to anyone who has seen a handful of young, dumb and too-quick-on-the-gun gangster flicks. From the moment the phrase “cardboard gangsters” is uttered you know there is only ever going to be one outcome.
What takes place leading up to the final act isn’t likely to rewrite the rules of storytelling but it roots itself in an authentic setting without overselling its hand too much with showy performances. Connors can take most of the credit for holding the story together, giving his character real heart and - despite his face-palming mistakes - someone to root for. You may also recognise Kierston Wareing from her time spent in Albert Square, appearing here as Derra’s neglected wife and making a mess of her badly misjudged femme fatale role.
O’Connor frequently peppers scenes with music from local rap groups a little too frequently, although his comment “I started listening to any Irish hip-hop I could get my hands on,” may explain why it keeps interrupting the flow of the story. Still, it fits in well with the run down environment and it’s refreshing to hear a local music scene given exposure it has little chance of achieving elsewhere. There is no danger of the film reinventing the gangster genre but it feels honestly told and full of genuine energy.