But when juxtaposed with “land” as in the Glassland that sums up the film as well as the fictional environment in which Barrett’s work is set, suddenly the title takes on an even greater meaning which not only strengthens his already stellar character driven drama but also makes Glassland that much harder to forget.
Set in the south Dublin town of Tallaght, Ireland and centered on the fractured relationship between a dutiful hardworking adult son struggling to care of an alcoholic mother who spends most of her days and nights drinking herself to death, Glassland paints an initially bleak picture of a country known around the world for its famed pub scene.
Anchored by Jack Reynor’s breakout performance as John in his Sundance Film Festival award winning role, Glassland gradually evolves into a humanistic chamber piece that transcends borders and boundaries while celebrating the complex bond between a mother and her child.
Contrasting John’s desperate plight to sober up his stubborn mom in order to save her life with the way his more apathetic mate’s mother lavishes him with love and affection, Barrett’s cinematic portrait is most poignant when he lets us see all of shades of gray in between extremes of black and white.
And while Glassland drives its message home in a powerful scene where John’s mother (played by the always compelling Toni Collette) breaks apart every glass plate in the house (and breaks her son’s heart in the process), it’s in the quieter, less-showy moments that Barrett pieces together its most effective visual, yet no less visceral poetry.
Knowing this story is more about people than plot, in three scenes that most filmmakers would’ve left on the cutting room floor like shards of glass in Collette’s kitchen, Barrett takes the opportunity to give us an even closer look at his characters’ lives.
From the way that John uses music to bridge the gap between language and emotion when communication fails to the unparalleled joy on the face of his special needs brother as John drives him around and around in circles in a parking lot, we sense how important the illusion of escape is to those whose lives feel out of control.
Refusing to play his character as mere victim or savior, in a staggeringly powerful performance, Reynor not only holds his own with Collette but says more with a look than words, which comes in particularly handy since Glassland is as fast paced as it is frequently quiet.
Working in a variety of subplots that all feel organic, Glassland steers clear of the TV-movie-of-the-week style melodramatic trappings that often go hand-in-hand with titles dealing with alcoholism by making the issue just one fact of John’s complicated life.
At times reminiscent of Cassavetes and Loach, through our lead’s strikingly powerful Neorealist inspired journey, Barrett touches on other contemporary socioeconomic concerns that feel as universal as the central storyline.
Nonetheless, in spite of a rushed final act which leaves us with a few lingering questions and makes us wonder whether the script had followed a more traditional thriller paradigm earlier on, by holding up a mirror to all those that populate Glassland, Barrett’s love for his characters (like John’s love for his mother) shines through – flaws and all.
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