Bertie Brosnan writes, directs and stars in Con, a feature that takes a candid look at the downsides of celebrity.
Brosnan plays Con Keogh, a successful actor with a reputation for self-destructive behaviour. Con’s just out of rehab and his cousin Andy (Owen Barton) pitches the actor on a documentary that would reunite Con with his estranged reclusive father, Michael (Michael J. O’Sullivan).
Andy hopes that reconciliation will give Con a new purpose in life. There’s also the feeling that his filmmaker cousin longs for a deeper connection with Con.
Brosnan’s film is made to look like a documentary. But what takes shape as Andy gets further into his film is something closer to a behind-the-scenes featurette.
We are privy to obstacles facing Andy as he tries to gather information on Con. There are no straight stories when it comes to his cousin – every answer raises another question.
Andy soon sees that bringing the wayward actor and his shut-in father together may not work out as intended. Mostly what we see is Andy losing faith in his project.
Con is a view into a potential filmmaking disaster. Brosnan’s film shows the unmaking of a documentary, alongside the descending fortunes of its subject.
Brosnan plays Con as a walking contradiction. As charismatic as he is insecure, his whole life has been a show. We learn that a young Con, always at his mother’s side, entered a world of adults before his time and suffered for it later in life.
Interspersed archival footage of Con’s late mother, the actress Joanne Keogh (Jean Law), illustrates a sort of unintentional neglect. The boy is always with his mother, but as an observer of her career and life.
Law doesn’t outwardly state this in her performance, but the suggestion is there in her faraway gaze and momentary-but-telling pauses in the interview footage. A palpable sense of regret is at the heart of Brosnan’s film.
The Con we see in the film’s interview footage is a cool customer, effortlessly charming and assured. Outside of the documentary he’s a broken mess of a man, unable to sustain healthy relationships with others, and struggling with an ongoing addiction.
Brosnan’s work behind the camera does a good job of faking these candid moments when Andy’s camera is not supposed to be rolling. Sometimes we catch glimpses of frail humanity that we aren’t supposed to.
There’s a feeling that as the production is coming undone, so too are its crew. Andy, once well-meaning and a little naïve, is increasingly shaken-up by the difficulties that he faces. The resulting chaos is there for us to see.
What’s more, sometimes Con denies us a view of the action entirely. Explanatory text informs us that only audio was salvageable for many key confrontations.
These cutting-room floor sequences feel naturalistic in a way that other aspects of the film do not. One standout moment comes following an awkward interview with Con’s agent George Summers, a brilliant blowhard portrayed by Tadhg Hickey.
From a distance the camera keeps rolling and the audience looks in on a confrontation between the two men. The masks and gloves are off, and it’s clear to see that despite the bluster Con is still very much a little boy in a world of men.
Earlier in the film, a series of interviews aimed to give us an understanding of the real Con Keogh. Mostly we get a sense of Keogh as a Marmite type of guy. You either really love him or really hate him. On average, most of the interviewees hold him in low regard.
Brosnan works the drama in such a way as to never give the audience too much of a bead on the real Con, if indeed there is one. The centrepiece of Andy’s documentary, the reuniting of father and son after 25 years fizzles out.
Fittingly, the big moment in Andy’s movie comes about by happenstance: it’s when a worse-for-wear Con, drunk from the night before, has it out with his father at the kitchen table.
There’s an immediacy to the staging of this sequence. The camera doesn’t move and, like the earlier scene with George Summers and Con, it feels like the audience shouldn’t really be watching.
And this is, ultimately, what Con is putting forward. To his fans, the news and assorted onlookers, abject tragedy is made a spectacle.
Con has played a part for so many years that he cannot be himself. The world expects one thing of him, failure. And in the closing moments of the film that’s all the actor can muster.
Con recently played at the Kerry Film Festival and is available to watch online on Amazon.