By Ray Bennett
TORONTO – A movie with the unprepossessing title “White Irish Drinkers’ about two brothers living in the Brooklyn docklands in 1975 could easily be filled with clichés but in the hands of filmmaker John Gray it’s a sparkling piece of entertainment that deserves a wide audience.
The set-up is formulaic with Stephen Lang as a tough Irish longshoreman who likes to slap his wife and eldest son around but dotes on his younger son, even as he mocks him for being soft. It sounds like a hoary old ’40s B-movie, but Gray’s screenplay is atmospheric, inventive and full of surprises, and his direction draws vivid portrayals from his players.
Nurtured properly, the film could find a responsive audience across generations with its savvy mix of youthful restlessness, crime, romance, broken traditions, and a little bit of rock ’n ’roll. Gray, who has had an eclectic directing career on television and a couple of features, and created the series “Ghost Whisperer,” shows full maturity as a filmmaker and he deserves a major hit with this picture.
Lang, with a pleasing lack of false bravado, plays Patrick, who always takes a drink or four on the way home and then takes it out on wife Margaret – Karen Allen, warm and matronly – and son Danny (Geoff Wigdor), who is cut from the same cloth as his father.
Mark Thurston makes a star-making appearance as younger son Brian, who gets along with everyone but keeps his talent and passion for drawing and painting hidden away. Danny is a petty criminal who tries to involve his brother in his crimes but Brian is no criminal and is much happier putting in time at the local theater run by Whitey (Peter Riegert, in a shrewdly sympathetic role).
Gray introduces intriguing plotlines seamlessly as Brian falls for pretty travel agent Shauna (Leslie Murphy); Whitey, in hock to a loan shark, schemes to bring the Rolling Stones to his theater; and Danny plans to knock over the proceeds.
Scenes between the painter and his girl, and with his mates, and between the brothers and their mother have heft and depth. Wigdor gets Danny’s rough edges right and Murphy is fresh and open as Laura.
Gray keeps the surprises and twists coming as Brian grows through the story with Thurston combining tenderness with sharp determination and a willingness to seize opportunities when they arise.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival; Sales: Submarine; Production company: Ovington Avenue Productions, Bernard/Scura Productions; Cast: Stephen Lang, Peter Riegert, Karen Allen, Nick Thurston, Geoffrey Wigdor, Leslie Murphy; Director, screenwriter, producer: John Gray; Producers: Melissa Joe Peltier, Paul Bernard, James Scura; Director of photography: Seamus Tierney; Production designer: Tomasso Ortino; Music: Mark Snow; Costume designer: Nicole Capasso; Editor: Neil Mandelberg; No rating, running time 109 minutes.
This review appears in The Hollywood Reporter.