Donal Donnelly gives a fiercely brooding perf as John Doyle, a taciturn Irish fisherman who lives alone — really alone — with his young son, Eamon (newcomer Andrew Scott). Motherless from a young age, the lad is growing up at an awkward time, just when old ways, like fishing a depleted lake and reading by lantern light, are giving way to tourism and mod cons. “We didn’t fight a war to have street lamps,” grumbles stern dad, who lives permanently in the past.
Resisting “the electric” and all other changes, old Doyle keeps fishing even after his license is revoked. Still, he knows there’s no future in County Cavan for his educated son. Trouble is the escape route to America has been tainted by some nasty troubles in a faraway place called Korea, where Yank draftees of all backgrounds are being shipped.
In fact, the eldest son of Ben Moran, (Vass Anderson), Doyle’s archrival, has just returned in a flag-draped box. Shockwaves are felt throughout the small community, but Eamon is even more disturbed to hear the old-timers gossiping about how much compensation money was sent by the U.S. government (“That Ben Moran has all the luck,” someone actually says).
Next thing you know, Eamon’s father hands him a ticket to America. Naturally, Eamon is frightened by this ambiguous gesture, especially since he’s fallen in love with Moran’s strong-willed daughter, Una (sad-eyed Fiona Molony). A showdown is inevitable.
There’s not much more plot than that, but helmer Cathal Black keeps the tension bubbling within a deliberate mood. This is supported by Nic Morris’ dramatic lensing, which looks for every lighting possibility in predominantly dark settings. There also are strong stylistic touches, like the images of eels undulating in an ominous portent of dangers lurking within the outwardly placid village, and in the greater world beyond.
A few flashback scenes, in which Doyle relives his Civil War experiences, could be cut with no harm, since they either repeat what we’ve already been told or go into territory sure to baffle non-Irish viewers. But the material, which adds up to a potent statement on the coded culture of violence passed from fathers to sons, is lovingly and fluidly assembled, a feat made more astonishing by the fact that “Korea” was shot in only one week.