Treacle Jr. (Jamie Thraves, 2010)

While his previous day job involved making acclaimed music video’s for the likes of Blur, Radiohead and The Verve; Jamie Thraves seems something of a neglected talent when it comes to feature film-making. Treacle Jr is his second film, following The Low Down, made in 2000 and also starring Aidan Gillen.  In 2006, that film was included in a list of “50 Lost Movie Classics” (at No. 18 no less) by the esteemed Observer film critic and writer, Phillip French.

In Treacle Jr Tom Fisher plays Tom; a forty-something married man with a new baby, a car and a house in the suburbs, who ups and leaves everything behind one day, seemingly for no apparent reason. Tom cuts up his bank cards, pockets the few remaining bank notes he has and takes to sleeping in doorways. As a result of an incident one night, following a fracas with some yobs in a public park, Tom ends up down the local A&E where he bumps into Aidan (Aidan Gillen). Aidan is a man with a child-like innocence, who has some slight mental health issues, but is otherwise relatively “normal”; but in Aiden’s world, “normal” ain’t such an easy thing to be.

The story unfolds in mostly episodic bursts as the pair end up hanging out together and Tom comes to rely on Aidan’s friendship and hospitality. Aidan has his own council flat, albeit shared with a bullying and untrustworthy “girlfriend”, Linda (Riann Steele).  After some unsuccessful attempts at sleeping rough, Tom comes to spend more and more time at Aidan’s, and a bond of sorts grows between the two men. Tom’s good nature sees how Aidan’s vulnerability can be easily abused, and he becomes a kind of protector to Aidan.

Aidan Gillen appears to have invested his character with the attributes and personal history of real-life “Master of the Universe” Aidan Walsh. Walsh was an eccentric, but well regarded figure on the Dublin music scene of the 1980s, with connections to bands as diverse as The Golden Horde, The Virgin Prunes and U2.  While taking nothing away from his co-star, Aidan Gillen’s performance throughout the film is nothing short of inspired and mesmeric.  He is an assured and charismatic performer, who turns the dial up to 11 for his portrayal here. Where, in other hands, there could be a danger of making the character nothing but a collection of quirks and tics, Gillen makes Aidan a fully fledged, living, breathing character with real depth and feeling; and who wins over the audience, right from his first scene.

Thraves also deserves credit for hanging back and letting his actors and the material breathe; though his cinema-verite style of shooting suits the material and makes for an almost documentary feel at times.  I wondered how much was scripted and how much was the actors’ contribution (especially in Gillen’s case), as scenes felt almost improvised at times. It would be a shame to see this film ignored as his previous feature was, as there is an undeniable talent at work here, which deserves much wider recognition.

Treacle Jr is at the Irish Film Institute until September 1st.

You can see the trailer here

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