Written and Directed by Gerard Barrett
One of the most well acted films of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Glassland is directed by Irish filmmaker Gerard Barrett. The film follows John (Jack Reynor), a young taxi driver in Dublin who gets involved with the local criminal underworld in order to make the necessary money to put his alcoholic mother (Toni Collette) in recovery and reunite and fix his broken family. It’s an intimate character thriller that operates on a slow but tense burn.
Jack Reynor proves he hasn’t lost a step even with a detour performance in the much-reviled Transformers: Age of Extinction. While many are only familiar with his role in Transformers, and as a result have written him off as an interchangeable young hunk, those people have likely not seen him in 2012’s What Richard Did where he gave a memorable performance. Lack of quality visibility doesn’t change the fact that Reynor is one of the most talented actors of his age group. His performance is one that gives you the impression that there are always several emotions and thoughts going through him at once. He’s always immediate and in the moment. Some scenes have him playing a quite charm and warmth, consider when he asks his mom to dance. Then others find him erupting into fury, or trying to hold it all together. He’s completely captivating to watch, and one can only hope he continues to get films like this made.
Will Poulter brings a welcome amount of levity and comedy to the film as John’s friend Shane – the moment when he asks John if he wants tea then yells for his mom to make some garnered a well earned chorus of laughs – but he gets some heavy moments of his own. One scene finds him spending a day with his child that he rarely sees, and the contrast in how he softens up from his normally tough-guy attitude is effectively transitioned by Poulter. The chemistry between Reynor and Poulter is honest, they feel like they have been friends for years in the shorthand with how they act with each other.
Toni Collette gives a brutally honest performance as John’s alcoholic mother. Her performance is horrifying, captivating and human. She’s brave in how willing she is to embrace the truly horrific aspects of her character. Even at her most monstrous, she holds the flicker of a human being inside. This is one of her most transformative performances, she completely lives inside the character and gives one of the most jaw-dropping performances to be seen at Sundance this year – and perhaps the whole rest of the year as well.
Gerard Barrett directs the film intimately, keeping the camera tight on his characters and letting the takes flow with long takes as often as possible. He’s edited down his film to its bare essentials: Each shot and line of dialogue that remains is representative of his characters and their journeys. Barrett joked before and after the screening that he was a very subtle director, and sometimes too subtle for his own good. He might be right. He’s wise for letting the audience think for themselves, but he doesn’t necessarily give them the dots to connect to unearth the revelations he intended for them. The revelations that are revealed certainly are interesting, but aren’t entirely there to be seen. It’s a forgivable misstep though, as Barrett has crafted a memorable film with outstanding performances, and shows much promise for his future projects.