Rialto: A searing Dublin movie that will stay in your brain

Film review: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s towering performance lifts the film above the misery

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Director: Peter Mackie Burns
Cert: 16
Genre: Drama
Starring: Tom Vaughn-Lawlor, Tom Glynn-Carney, Monica Dolan, Sophie Jo Wasson, Scott Graham, Michael Smiley
Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins

There is a late scene in Peter Mackie Burns's searing Dublin drama that sensitive viewers will find impossible to shake from the brain. Involving a confrontation between a deeply troubled Dubliner and his recalcitrant teenage son, it takes in an emotional cruelty that you rarely get from films made outside Austria (I can pass on a few names if you don't know what directors I'm talking about). It hits home because it has been earned.

The younger man is aggressively horrid throughout, but, by this stage, we understand he has been starved of paternal affection. The father says the worst thing imaginable, but we have poked around enough of his psychological entrails to expect such robust deviation from accepted norms. The wretchedness is real.

Job had nothing on Colm. His dad has just died. He is being made redundant. His son hates his guts

That is the sort of film we are dealing with. Adapted by unstoppable polymath Mark O’Halloran from his play Trade, Rialto – which only briefly visits that Dublin suburb – is an unrelenting study in urban despair. As was the case in his script for Adam and Paul, the dialogue relishes everyday contemporary demotic. Like the Oscar-longlisted Viva, which also profited from an O’Halloran screenplay, the picture shows compassion for the underappreciated. But it lacks Adam and Paul’s humour and Viva’s poetry.

One might be tempted towards the cliche “easier to admire than love”, but a towering central performance from Tom Vaughan-Lawlor elevates Rialto above its mulch of misery.

Job had nothing on Colm. His dad has just died. He is being made redundant. His son hates his guts. The story kicks off with Colm picking up a young hustler and paying him for sex, but that relationship brings little you could define as joy. Astute to the way disaffection works on many middle-aged men, the script does allow Colm a poignant, believably warm relationship with his daughter (Sophie Jo Wasson). Those scenes stand out like a butterfly in no man’s land.

The filmmakers are to be commended for allowing no sentimentality into their depiction of the protagonist. Vaughan-Lawlor’s immersion in an often horrid personality is so total, one wonders if he suffered the bends after resurfacing each evening.

Adam Scarth’s camera moves in so closely on the character that those unfamiliar with the landmarks will get little sense of the surrounding city. The end result is suffocating and dislocating. That was almost certainly the intention. Whether or not the ambiguous ending promises redemption is less certain.

On release from October 2nd

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist