BFI London Film Festival: The Young Offenders

The Young Offenders
Directed by Peter Foott
Starring Alex Murphy, Chris Walley and Hilary Rose

by Amanda Farley

Peter Foott’s debut feature is a welcome addition to the Irish film landscape. Set in Cork in 2007, The Young Offenders was shot on an impressively small budget and yet more than stands its ground against bigger budget films like The Stag (2013). Bringing together the comic genius of Chris Walley and Alex Murphy as Jock and Conor, The Young Offenders offers everything from farce to tragedy with a script that packs a punch and keeps the laughs coming.

Inspired by the largest cocaine seizure to date in the history of the Irish state, Foott’s script is based on the real events of 2007 when 1.5 tonnes of cocaine ended up in the sea off the west coast of Cork. In this comical reimagining, two teenage wasters set out on a modern day treasure hunt to find a bale armed with only dreams and stolen bikes. Coming from dysfunctional families, the idea of 7 million pounds offers the chance to escape from their own personal hells.

Cars, women and freedom are all on offer but first there are a few obstacles to overcome. Like the 160km between them and the cocaine and a local guard (Dominic MacHale) who has taken an unhealthy interest in them. Throw in a disabled drug dealer (PJ Gallagher) and a local hard man (Shane Casey) and you have a film packed full of twists and surprises.

It’s hard not to get swept away with these unlikely heroes. Foott has created beautiful characters and cast brilliantly. Sharp and funny, there is real comic bite and pathos in this piece. Newcomers Walley and Murphy are brilliantly matched; their comic timing and vulnerability add depth and emotion to a script packed with great lines. Their performance and Foott’s script turn Jock and Conor from small town wasters into heroes setting out like Don Quixote on metal steeds to save themselves from the dysfunctional inevitability of their day to day existence. When combined with the stunning scenery and an emotional stand-off with a chicken, you are left with something a little bit special.

Also, worth noting is the relationship between Connor and his mum (Hilary Rose). A tragic and broken dynamic, it’s packed with a love and honesty that makes their scenes sparkle. Conor’s mum mercilessly teases her son but it belies her true feelings. Their dynamic helps to steady the plot and it would have been nice to see more moments between them. The only character that feels out of place is Gallagher’s disabled drug dealer. While his performance is enjoyable, the comedy around this character feels forced and a little too broad. Foott fails to find a depth or context for the disability, and it appears tacked on for laughs rather than embedded in the character.

Overall, The Young Offenders is an exciting and charming debut and a great showcase of Foott’s comic ability.  Walley and Murphy are clearly ones to watch. This is a sweet and fun romp and well worth a cinema ticket.



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