Okay. This is about a wretchedly grumpy old man – so grumpy and wretched he lost old Jack’s sympathy inside ten minutes – tricking the son he hasn’t seen in decades to come back home to Ireland. Jack McCarthy is hiding, perfectly sensibly, in America. He likes it there and doesn’t need the grief of an inaccessible old bastard making him collect a book of debts and struggle through old, cruel memories.
There was tutting in the TV room as Larry McCarthy – the dad – got increasingly nasty to his boy. He bounds from being unrepentant for the great lie that he’s terminal, to snarky at the boy’s presence (this after 20 years’ estrangement, so…I’m with middle-aged Jack on this), to actively violent. The anger between the two is a cold enactment of everything an old man doesn’t want with his middle-aged son. Blue collar hate. The tutting moved to silence as everyone left to do something warm-hearted and fun.
So – come the gradual reconciliation of these two inarticulate yet exhaustingly on-the-nose and wordy old brogues – old Jack was alone with a hot chocolate and sense of dislocation from the story. The mum had died. It wrecked them both. An uneasy relationship had become an escapable one and so on. Not a lot of surprises, and the small pool of incidental characters prove themselves, well, incidental to this emotionally grey rainbow.
Karl Johnson perfects threateningly-nasty as Larry; Gerard Hurley writes and directs himself and his earring into a shade of empty, pitying masculinity. Lili Taylor – a relief from this ghastliness in every scene – is a barely-known, naturalistically played hope. The boy runs to her in the end and I was heartily glad for it, but had no idea where the relationship could go given she was given neither plot nor personality.
The Pier – an independent, very Celtic tale of sadness and the need to reconcile at the last – is set in a beautiful place, but (at least on Amazon Prime) filmed weirdly. It feels like 1990s TV wrenched into widescreen and unprepared for HD. And when you’re straining for all the dialogue and projecting rather than feeling the characters’ plight, it is simply hard work. A bit like that sentence.
On its side, however, is a kind of honesty. No The Quiet Man Ireland, this. Rather, that brutal charm of pubs and judgement is shown for what it is: painful, rejecting and cold. If I had the knees to ever get up again, I might go sit on the stairs like Jack McCarthy does and let the after-film silence seep through me.
If you fancy some rural rows, take a deep breath and guess who fell off The Pier. Y’ gobshite.