The Redemption of a Rogue – Film Review
by Frank L.
Written and Directed by Philip Doherty
Stars – Aaron Monaghan, Aisling O’Mara, Kieran Roche
Jimmy Cullen (Aaron Monaghan) is a modern-day prodigal son who returns home to rural Ballylough after a lifetime of indulgence in alcohol, prostitutes and crystal meth. He obtained the money for these excesses from his father by means of deceit. The father is now incapacitated upstairs in bed in the family home barely capable of speaking. Jimmy’s arrival is followed shortly by his father’s death.
His father’s will has a condition that he must not be buried on a day when it is raining. The rain descends and lasts at least forty days, to follow the theme of biblical references. Jimmy relives, during these damp days, his past, where amongst other failings was his inept goalkeeping for the local football team and the remains of a relationship (or the lack thereof) with an ex-girlfriend. His relationship with his brother, Damien (Kieran Roche), who looked after his father, is inevitably fraught. So the backdrop for these forty days is therefore quite bleak!
However, Doherty lightens the grimness by a steady stream of unlikely black comic stratagems such as keeping the father’s corpse chilled in a coffin with frozen pizzas. Time and again the comedy shines through the incessant drumbeat of the rain. Jimmy experiences a new entanglement with one Masha (Aisling O’Mara) who comes from some European outpost. In this community, Masha is very much an outsider. Her values are very different from those of her new environment. The Ballylough residents are knowingly portrayed by Doherty.
Monaghan manages to engender a deal of empathy for Jimmy, despite being a self-obsessed individual. Jimmy handles his fraught relationship with Damien with an awareness that Damien has borne the burden of their father’s incapacity without letting that sacrifice make Jimmy beholden to him. Masha represents a different entanglement. She can educate Jimmy into new ways of thinking and behaving but while intrigued he keeps a distance. O’Mara impresses as a femme fatale as Jimmy struggles not to succumb to her undoubted charms.
Doherty also includes a musical score by Robbie Perry which is enhanced by shots of the musicians playing happily away in the shop windows of Ballylough. These sequences provide more levitation from the all-pervasive rain.
However, the never-ending dampness is the essence of the film. Doherty’s black comic script sparkles and lifts the gloom. Some of the imagery in the film may cause offence as it is not reverential to the religious sensibility of Ballylough. Doherty portrays a society that on the surface is religiously observant but whose lives are motivated by other forces. The film won Best Irish Film and Best Irish First Feature in the Galway Film Fleadh in 2020 and it certainly has style.