Here Are the Young Men grabs the audience’s attention immediately with that most tantalising of movie promises, a true story, or as Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), the film’s protagonist tells us, “these things happened”, via a hushed voice over at the start of the movie.
Adapted for the screen from Rob Doyle’s novel of the same name by Doyle and the film’s director, Eoin Macken, the action follows Matthew and his pals, Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and Kearney (Finn Cole), as they leave secondary school and run wild on Dublin city fuelled by drugs, drink and a bottomless appetite for destruction.
Initially, it’s easy to feel as though we’ve watched a version (or many versions) of this film before. The rapid-fire scenes of clubbing and pubbing feel like delinquent filmmaking by numbers. Standard Boys Behaving Badly stuff. But the speed of the action keeps the interest up, so you’re never looking at the same act of debauchery for too long.
Nothing good, bad or middling lasts forever though, and Here Are the Young Men takes an early dramatic turn when the three friends witness a car accident that kills a young girl. From here, their lives take divergent paths and the rest of the film shows us the zig-zagging, intertwining highs and lows of their chosen paths.
What’s odd is the style of the film doesn’t really change with this narrative break. Like a comedown from a particularly heavy night, the crash sucks the colour out of the film. For a moment the world moves in slow motion and we see Kearney and Matthew react with ambiguous expressions. It could be horror but then again… It’s difficult to read the intent of this sequence because the film is so big stylistically.
Scenes of tragedy, violence, passion, whatever, are treated in the same way. The look of the film is somewhere between an Italo Dance music video and a classic melodrama. Macken’s film has so many ideas stuffed into it that it is sometimes overwhelming and more often, baffling.
As an example, many sequences take place on the set of an American talk show hosted by a Morton Downey Jr or Jerry Springer-type shock-merchant. These scenes usually feature Kearney, the worst of the group, your classic bully and instigator capable of terrible things. For Kearney, life and death “are just words”.
The talk show doubles-up narratively as a way of chronicling Kearney’s time in America with his brother, a continuation of his Dublin antics only with the mayhem cranked way up.
A scene in which Matthew reads a rambling run-on sentence email from Kearney pays some homage to The Rules of Attraction, which serves as another burst of hyperactivity to jostle the viewer.
There’s plenty going on for Matthew at home in Dublin too, he’s starting out with Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy), who sees her future in international diplomacy. She’s taken with Matthew and the early moments of their relationship make for a worthwhile detour.
Rez meanwhile, is unable to reconcile with having witnessed the car crash. Walsh-Peelo does good work to make his performance feel the most natural of the leads. It helps that he’s not grappling with trying on an accent though.
Accents are the biggest stumbling block for the other leads, particularly when they have to shout. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shouting going on and subsequently many instances of wandering, morphing accents. But like so many aspects of Here Are the Young Men, it’s not necessarily bad. Instead, the conflicts are made into campy spectacle, pro-am-dram.
After a failed suicide attempt Rez shouts Matthew out of a hospital ward. The incident pushes the two friends apart from each other and back into the orbit of Kearney, whose mysterious and sudden return from America brings with it even more chaos.
Some events that take place during the latter 45 minutes of Here Are the Young Men’s running time presented in no particular order: a tyre fire, the viewing of a snuff film, many dream sequences, a murder (maybe?), a murder (definitely), many more dream sequences, parties upon parties, and so on and so on. Most of these things could form the solid backbone of a picture. Here Are the Young Men is, instead, a crazy-looking work of rogue taxidermy.
To this end, Rez, Matthew and Kearney also form one mythical creature: a polycephalic beastie. Combined they are the Celtic Tiger Cub, full of squandered potential, rage and privilege, perfectly equipped to navigate a world as mixed-up as they are.
Screened as part of the Galway Film Fleadh, and owing to current circumstances, the film was presented as a streaming video. The audience was able to watch from the comfort of their own home, on an Internet-capable device of their choosing. And so, one of the great pleasures of the film festival, the audience reaction remains a mystery. Did anyone close their laptop in disgust and stage a mock walk out? Were there any standing ovations around a Smart TV? Or whoops, boos or gasps directed at a smartphone?
It’s hard to know, and yet Macken’s film feels like it should be divisive. It is on one hand, so relentless, slick, and so assured, but it is also sometimes dull, clumsy, and amateurish.
Captivating and infuriating, a real love-it-or-hate-it movie.