Glassland concerns itself with John (Jack Reynor), a Dublin cab driver like his estranged father, who is struggling to keep his life together and care for his mother (Toni Collette) who is fighting a losing battle with alcoholism. As things come to a head, he has difficult decisions about how to raise money to make.
This is a film that relies heavily on visual storytelling and strong edit that moves the story along. It never says too much until it has to. It sounds counterintuitive but to have a film communicate this visually is rather unusual in this day and age where video equipment nears ubiquity and dialogue is still as cheap as its ever been.
To paint your story in moving images requires sumptuous cinematography with tremendous framing, and in seeking to dramatize reality make lighting and compositional decisions that are as visually compelling as they are unobtrusive. That’s what Piers McGrail brings to this work persistently for 93 minutes.
A close second to visuals in terms of priority in Grassland are the characters who have to be fully understood and conveyed by the actors playing them, and they succeed in spades. While there can be a debate on the merits of a story-based monologue as a useful tool for actors, there’s no question, however, that Collete’s monologue of the story of her life is one of the most memorable in recent memory; and a standout in a supernova of a performance.
Jack Reynor is more than a worthy adversary and provides a star-making turn of his own, which in my estimation means I will also sit up and take notice when I see him in another film from hereon out. He is convincingly the conscience of the film whom feels the burden of the oldest child to care for his mother when she can’t seem to care for herself. His journey is his own, but being selfless is invariably tied up in the fate of others.
One tricky maneuver this film navigates well is that that it does not genre-shift when criminal activity becomes more involved in the plot. Grassland persistently subsumes the criminal element remaining focused on characters, decisions, and visuals rather than explosive set-pieces.
Also taking part in this ensemble is Will Poulter, one of the finest young actors the world over who never fails to deliver. In this film he adds another weapon to his arsenal blending in seamlessly with the local actors with his own Irish brogue, which also acts and a warning to those who may need subtitling assistance.
Glassland presents all its characters at a crossroads. It doesn’t offer easy solutions or even closure per se, just a close to a chapter but there is a glimmer of hope in some of the third act developments, and at times, in life as in drama, that’s all that remains.