Cinema Review: Rialto

Posted October 6, 2020 in Cinema Reviews


Director: Peter Mackie Byrne

Talent: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Tom Glynn-Carney

Released: October 2

“I’ve been lost alright. I want to be straight out. I want a life. I want to be a good person.” Tom Vaughan-Lawlor plays Colm, an anguished father with a secret in Peter Mackie Byrne’s adaptation of Mark O’Halloran’s stage play.

Based on Mark O’Halloran’s two-hander stage play, Trade, comes this sullen curio directed by Peter Mackie Byrne, who directed the engaging, if slight, Daphne.

It centres on 46-year-old Colm, who’s in free-fall after the death of his abusive father. Colm shuffles joylessly through his workday on the docks. He is zero craic but his life is no picnic. A merger means his job hangs in the balance and his relentlessly disrespectful son resents him with impunity. What’s more, when Colm is propositioned by a young hustler, Jay, in a bathroom, we realise he’s been hiding homosexual impulses. He is punished for this moment of submission when Jay says he will out him to his family if he doesn’t give him more cash.

Though this may sound like a thriller, things take an intriguingly introspective turn. Jay isn’t quite the menacing hoodlum that his posturing would suggest. He needs this money to support his baby. Once the blackmail has been carried out, Colm continues to enlist sexual favours from the 19-year-old Jay.

Slowly, but surely, Colm and Jay become gruffly confessional with each other. They both have attachment issues with their fathers and struggle to connect with their significant others. The relationship is the core of the film. It’s ambiguous as to whether the relationship is merely transactional or if there’s something deeper going on. When Jay asks Colm why he’s showed up at his doorstep after his father’s month’s mind, Colm tells him: “Maybe because there are no lies between us.” Despite the fact that their bond was founded on mutual exploitation, their scenes become strangely vital, a reprieve from the alienation of Colm’s repressed home-life.

The actors put in strong work. Vaughan-Lawlor looks perpetually anguished, his face contorting with shame in every shot. Glynn-Carney is a dab hand at seeming puckish and defiant one minute, and vulnerable the next. All the performances are authentic, if a bit mumbly.

The same level of depth isn’t afforded to Colm’s family members, who are sidelined. To be fair, this lopsidedness probably reflects the play Rialto’s based on. That the family dynamics remain largely subterranean is realistic, if a bit unfulfilling. What’s peculiar is you feel like there is richness and dramatic potential that isn’t fully developed. Yet the central relationship should rightly take focus, and it’s a credit to the writing that the additional family scenes ring true.

While it’s admirable that the film refrains from descending into melodrama, I thought the last stretch was a little too coy about the fallout from certain momentous decisions. Perhaps Mackie wants to leave you in a state of expectation. The ending feels a little abrupt, the third act curtailed, tantalising the viewer just as the shit is about to hit the fan. Rialto almost feels like a very absorbing pilot episode setting up character arcs for a season.

Still, it stayed with me after I watched it, thanks to the central relationship. Bleak yet strangely invigorating, Rialto is worth a look.

Words: Rory Kiberd

Illustration: Brandon O’Rourke


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