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For film buffs living in Ireland, it’s been frustrating witnessing parties, clubs and nightlife onscreen. These depictions are often America-set. Scenes of inebriation feel more sanitised in a mainstream movie. Meanwhile, the ones that don’t feel hard to verify in terms of authenticity. After all, one may not have personally experienced the culture in which they’ve taken place. A thank you then is in order for co-writer and debut director Dave Tynan and writer and leading man Emmet Kirwan for giving us Dublin Oldschool, a fun, fast but authentic slice of the Irish capital.
Adapted from an acclaimed play by Kirwan, aspiring DJ Jason (Kirwan) teeters on the brink of self-destruction. This is down to his hard-partying lifestyle, made possible by coke, E and ketamine. However, over a particularly packed weekend of raves, Garda drug busts and running into an ex – he reconnects with his estranged brother, Daniel (Ian Lloyd Anderson), a heroin addict roaming the Dublin capital.
Huge credit should go to Tynan, who makes something which originated in theatre feel very cinematic. The play was a spoken word two-hander. On stage, Kirwan and Anderson filled the world of Dublin Oldschool through dialogue and performance alone. In the movie, however, location is everything.
Prior to Dublin Oldschool, perhaps the greatest modern depiction of Dublin onscreen was Lenny Abrahamson’s Adam & Paul. However, while that film was shot in a slow and static way (perfect for conveying the trying existence of two homeless heroin addicts), Tynan’s movie captures Ireland’s capital as a place constantly in motion. As Jason and Daniel journey along the Liffey’s quays, a DART in the background of the shot passes over Butt Bridge. As they walk on the outskirts of Temple Bar, the camera jitters with them, as well as other Dubliners going along their day. The result feels alive and energetic.
Speaking of energetic, Dublin Oldschool is crazily paced. Beginning with a very funny on-foot chase and moving to a pre-drinks, a druggy night on the town, an aftersesh, a Garda raid – rinse and repeat – the movie captures a vibe similar to Danny Boyle. It feels slightly reductlve to make comparisons to Trainspotting. However, the heroin angle and the fact that both Ewan McGregor and Emmet Kirwan’s protagonists share a ‘choose life‘ mentality, make the two films feel like brethren. That said, Kirwan’s experimental narration – consisting mostly of spoken word poems – helps forge Dublin Oldschool as it’s own movie.
Helping to flesh out the cinematic world of Dublin Oldschool is a great supporting cast. With only a few scenes, Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful) manages to leave a big impression. Playing a long-time, more mature friend of Jason, she brings a wisdom to the role, while also selling the pair’s relationship. Liam Heslin is a delight as Dave the Rave, a south side drug dealer who seems both clueless and insane. Meanwhile, A Date for Mad Mary’s Seana Kerslake is so good as Jason’s ex that one wishes the subplot involving her did not fizzle out in one of the movie’s few missteps.
Perhaps Kirwan feared this plotline would detract from the relationship at the film’s core between Jason and Daniel. Maybe he was wise because their bond really is the anchor that keeps viewers, among endless scenes of drug-taking or at one point ‘petrol sniffing,’ emotionally invested. Kirwan and Anderson have natural chemistry helping audiences buy them as brothers despite not looking alike. Yet, past betrayals and mistakes constantly bubble to the surface of their bantering like bombs. In these moments, the actors are so raw, they make the hair stand on viewers’ necks.
That’s not to say the story of Jason and Daniel is not tender. The idea of a younger brother on the edge of oblivion being pulled back to safety by his brother, who already fell into the stupor of heroin, is dark but beautiful. Although, Jason denounces their reunion being fate: ‘Dublin’s not a city, it’s a village,’ he scowls, it’s hard not to read the chance encounter between the two as something that was meant to be. This leaves Dublin Oldschool feeling like a celebration of the randomness of life.
While watching Dublin Oldschool it felt troubling that for a film about the downside of drugs, it does spend much of its running time glamorising them. However, in the weeks past, a line by Greene’s character seems to hold the key to the movie. Early on, she encourages Jason to have fun but to be careful and do it in moderation. Although its simple, the fact that message is in the movie and it bears some significance to what happened to Daniel in the past implies that a lot more care went into Dublin Oldschool than one’s typical drug movie. In the words of Jason: ‘Gimme dat.’