Tristan Heanue and Graham Earley are brothers on opposite sides of the law in Paddy Slattery’s shoebox-sized thriller Broken Law.
Dave (Heanue) and Joe (Earley) Connolly live their lives in the shadow of their deceased father, a respected garda who was killed in the line of duty. Dave has done all he can to live up to his father’s reputation. He’s loyal to the law first and foremost and has little to do with his younger brother, who has spent much of his own life engaging in reckless and rebellious criminality.
After a stint in prison, Joe’s half-hearted resolution to stay out of trouble is quickly forgotten when his old pals, Wallace and Pete (John Connors and Ryan Lincoln), take him out to celebrate his release. Out comes the cocaine and the cans and soon Joe is up to his old tricks again.
A fistfight outside a nightclub gives an early glimpse of Slattery’s frank approach to violence. Action occurs as a burst of ugliness, as though the camera crew happened upon a fight while filming something else.
Initially, Slattery’s script deals in simple characterisations. Dave and Joe are stock characters —cop and crook.
Joe is wild by nature. He protests a little when his friends goad him into snorting and drinking, but it’s for show, he was never going to go straight. Nothing is easy for a guy like Joe because he’s always getting in his own way. In an early scene a drunk Joe won’t back down after a misunderstanding outside a club, an unceremonious beatdown ensues and he’s left with his pride and body hurting.
These scenes of wanton self-destruction and mayhem are set against Dave’s mundane work/life routine. He’s married to his job, but the job isn’t a good partner. His salary barely makes the rent and he’s stuck on small stakes patrols with an oversharing colleague.
There’s a fun bit of misdirection early on where it looks as though Dave isn’t as straight-laced as he appears to be, when a speeding motorist offers him a generous cheque to let her go free. He accepts but only so it can be used as evidence for a bribery charge.
Dave lives by the book — a book that is mostly folktales, stories of his father retold again and again by his mother and superiors on the force. For Dave, the legend is impossible to live up to.
Still, he keeps ironing his shirts, polishing his boots, and chasing that ideal.
Slattery sets up a light-hearted scenario for Broken Law’s main narrative thrust. Dave is in the right place at the wrong time when the local credit centre is held up. He pursues one of the robbers only to come face-to-face with Joe. The scenario is amusing. Dave, who took Joe into his home upon his release from prison, now shares his apartment with a wanted man and a stash of cash.
Matters are complicated further when David begins an affair with Amia, the teller from the credit centre that Wallace and Joe held up.
The Connollys’ forced cohabiting situation forces the brothers to reconnect and face up to each other emotionally. These scenes of heartfelt, naturalistic banter show the range of both actors, as they’re able to break free of the broad characterisation that defined them in the early stages of the film.
Heanue and Earley have an effortless rapport but it’s tinged with an ever-present bitterness.
They love one another as much as they hate one another.
Playing off of this are scenes featuring Ally Ní Chiaráin as their mother, Irene. Irene worries about both of her sons for different reasons. In Dave she sees the worst aspects of her “hero” husband. Irene is concerned that he is committed to his job over anything else in his life, but it comes out in the form of scolding. Joe, on the other hand, the younger of the two, is still her baby.
These verbal duels between mother and son almost match the film’s more suspenseful moments in terms of tension. It’s the feeling of lived experiences, those words or phrases that bring to mind disagreements in our own lives. I’ll wager that many more people have argued with their parents than stared down the barrel of a loaded gun.
Heanue brings his soap opera experience to the big screen here, the familial melodrama manages to feel heightened in just the right way.
Slattery’s plotting is such that any and all details are important, but because the focus is narrow, some of the major twists and turns are signposted to us too clearly.
The scope of the action feels like Slattery is manipulating clockwork miniatures in a grey diorama of Dublin, winding up a situation and letting it go off. For the characters too, there’s an element of play. Dave is playing at being the paragon of protocol, Joe too, is not as hard a man as he appears particularly when compared to his partner-in-crime, Wallace.
But as the film goes on we see that Wallace is not all that either. There’s a fantastic moment toward the end of the film where bravado gives way to boyish shock from the goodies and the baddies.
It’s one of those moments where misgivings give way to genuine surprise and delight.
Broken Law is predictable genre filmmaking at its most comfortable. As such, those unexpected moments make a big impact. Not the most thrilling of thrillers, but an enjoyable, tightly focused film.
Broken Law is in cinemas now.