Cardboard Gangsters is a film that says nothing new but says it very loudly and, at times, with such conviction and style that it’s almost compelling.
An opening prologue, which features a group of children playing amongst derelict buildings before stumbling on a horrible scene, promises something heightened, something lyrical. However, once we meet the young men that these kids grown up to be, the plot settles into a tired template. We have Jason, a burly, level headed presence, capable of warmth as well as violence, who is drawn more and more in to the world of drug dealing in Darndale. Still hanging around with his three lifelong friends, he finds himself both seduced and forced into committing full time to life of crime, moving from being a dole queue outsider to the big man on the street. Naturally, the current king of the area isn’t going to take kindly to this.
John Connors, who co-wrote, is wonderful in the lead role. Jason feels like a real person who has multiple sides to him and Connors plays him with menace, kindness and a steely coolness as needs be. He is, however surrounded by one dimensional personalities. Dano, the loud mouth of the group is introduced looking at the area’s Kingpin and saying ‘We should kill him. Then we’d be the boss’. Yes, we know. We’ve seen movies before. Fionn Walton, who plays Dano, is doing a complete 180 version of his quiet, thoughtful performance in 2013’s Out of Here. He’s near unrecognisable but you wish the script justified such a great, physical transformation. Similarly Glenner (Paul Alwright AKA Lethal Dialect) plays the angel to Dano’s devil on the hero’s shoulder convincingly. It’s a pity he hasn’t more to do than occasionally interject an ‘I dunno man, this is a bad idea’.
There are several scenes of extreme violence that are effective and shocking but, at times, the film doesn’t know if it wants to cheer or boo what’s happening on screen. One moment involving an ill advised quickie in an alley is so obviously a grotty mistake. However, it’s scored as if this is a super cool thing to do.
Ultimately what drags Cardboard Gangsters down is that it has nothing new to say. It’s a film that you can’t fault for ambition but also one with the time worn message that crime is kinda cool but very dangerous. Beyond the ‘crime doesn’t pay’ morality this just doesn’t have anything on its mind.
Cardboard Gangsters is in cinemas from Friday June 16th.