The Belly of the Whale: A Donegal film with an accent problem

Review: The actors do their jobs. The camerawork is suitably grimy. It’s not enough

Film Title: The Belly of the Whale

Director: David Lowery

Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Pat Shortt, Michael Smiley, Lauren Kinsella, Art Parkinson, Peter Coonan

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 86 min

Thu, Dec 6, 2018, 06:00

   

You what now? The most conspicuous issue with this ambitious Irish feature concerns its terminal identity crisis. There is little chance the allusion is intended, but the title and aspects of the plot kick up a few reminders of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s majestic Leviathan. A rural town is wracked by corruption. Oddballs get kicked in awkward directions. Those sorts of things.

The tone is lighter, but only because few movies are any darker than that Russian film. Even the comedy in The Belly of the Whale is at the grimmer end of the cinematic spectrum. Maybe we’re going for the Coens at their less perky. Who knows?

Anyway, Morgan Bushe’s directorial debut concerns itself with the relationship between young tearaway Joey Moody (Lewis MacDougall) and miserable alcoholic Ronald Tanner (Pat Shortt). The former has returned to his rural home with the intention of reviving his family’s caravan park. The latter is pathetically selling Chinese teddy bears to help solve a possibly insoluble family issue. Both run dangerously against a corrupt politician who exhibits a jocular malignity that is Michael Smiley’s own. 

Michael Smiley: master of jocular malignity
Michael Smiley: master of jocular malignity

All this is apparently happening in Donegal, but the jumble of (sometimes incomprehensible) accents positions the action closer to the Tower of Babel. Ronald speaks as Pat Shortt normally does. Joey appears to be Scottish. Michael Smiley’s character – forenamed Gits, I’m afraid – sounds as if he’d be more comfortable within sight of the Lagan.

None of this would matter if the story ever found its focus, but it flails around in too many directions before ending up in a conflagration among the fruit machines. That late showdown is well handled. The senior actors deliver the goods as we know they can. The grimy cinematography suits the grimy mood convincingly. 

That may be enough to be going on with for some.

Opens December 7th