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FILMS Ireland / UK / Croatia / Slovenia

Review: The Belly of the Whale

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- Morgan Bushe’s debut feature, which echoes the best American indie films, is certainly promising and lays the foundations for his directorial career

Review: The Belly of the Whale
Michael Smiley in The Belly of the Whale

The world premiere of The Belly of the Whale [+see also:
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]
 served to open the 30th edition of the Galway Film Fleadh, the Republic of Ireland’s leading film festival. Directed by Irish producer Morgan Bushe (The Other Side of Sleep [+see also:
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interview: Antonia Campbell-Huges
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]
Silent Sonata [+see also:
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), the film is an 83-minute drama that unfurls a number of thriller, action and comedy elements within a fairly simple narrative. The script, penned by the director himself together with Greg Flanagan, revolves around two main characters – namely, Joey Moody, played by young Scottish emerging talent Lewis MacDougall (Boundaries, A Monster Calls [+see also:
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interview: Juan Antonio Bayona
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]
), and Ronald Tanner, portrayed by seasoned Irish actor Pat Shortt (Calvary [+see also:
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making of
interview: John Michael McDonagh
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]
Life’s a Breeze [+see also:
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). 

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Joey has come back to his rural Irish village in a bid to reclaim his family’s caravan park and salvage his friendship with his mate Martin Lanks (Art Parkinson). Ronald is a desperate 50-year-old man – probably once a respectable, middle-class gentleman – who risks his savings on a get-rich-quick scheme that involves the sale of Chinese teddy bears in an attempt to pay for his sick wife’s medication. When Joey accidentally torches Ronald’s caravan and is forced to reimburse him for it, the pair find themselves bound together in misfortune. Thus they plan to rob the Pleasurama, the village’s amusement arcade, owned by Gits Hegarty, who is portrayed by veteran Northern Irish actor and comedian Michael Smiley (Free Fire [+see also:
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Jawbone [+see also:
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). Here Smiley imbues the main antagonist with just the right dose of deceitfulness and perversion. Other cast members include young actress Lauren Kinsella as Sinead Quigley, Peter Coonan as Rooster Collins and Ronan Graham as Hobo Harry. 

The pace of the narration is generally enjoyable, and the action scenes are realistic and well crafted. The four sequences in the film, named after the days of the week during which the plot takes place – Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday – disclose the backstories of the two protagonists, a man and a teenage boy who have nothing to lose, totally enslaved by their miserable existences. However, more thorough work on the character development could have improved the construction of their relationship and the gradual emergence of their indissoluble bond. This probably could have been achieved by simply giving the pair more room to explore their personal connections over the course of the first half of the film, but luckily this niggle does not affect the overall narrative structure, which remains solid and engaging.

Great work has also been done in terms of the cinematography and production design – Michael Moynihan (The Lodgers [+see also:
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Cardboard Gangsters [+see also:
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) and director of photography Arthur Mulhern (No Greater LawThe Hatton Garden Job) have contributed to successfully creating the grimy, demoralising world of the Irish countryside, where slot machines and video-game arcades can be the only possible forms of entertainment. Finally, it is worth mentioning the high quality of the soundtrack, composed by Slovenian musician Janez Dovč. His work effectively emphasises the film’s disheartening atmosphere, particularly during the final scenes set in the amusement arcade.

Produced by Morgan Bushe and Rory Dungan for Fastnet Films (Ireland) in co-operation with Tilted Productions (United Kingdom), Nukleus Film (Croatia) and Studio Virc (Slovenia), The Belly of the Whale is a promising directorial debut that captures viewers’ attention mostly thanks to its commendable acting and storyline. The North American distribution will be handled by XYZ Films, while Wildcard Distribution will be in charge of the Irish release later this year.

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