A rabidly doctrinaire priest is pitted against his family in the small Irish village of “Middletown,” another addition to the growing list of pics depicting the church as a haven for sadistic nut jobs. Granted things start out with a more reasoned look into personalities and motivations, but once the plot veers toward the gothic there’s no turning back. Nonetheless, helmer Brian Kirk, a BAFTA nominee, gives an atmospheric spin to his feature debut, exhibiting a sure hand with the fine actors he’s gathered. Break out chances though are slim.
In an unidentifiable near past, young Gabriel (Tyrone McKenna) is ushered into church and told he was called by God for a higher purpose in life.
Fifteen years later, his dad Bill (Gerard McSorley) and brother Jim (Daniel Mays) wait for the adult Gabriel (Matthew Macfadyen) to return from missionary work in Africa.
The father always favored Gabriel over the pugnacious and quick-tempered Jim, who was more likely to be found at cockfights than in church pews. As an adult, with pregnant wife Caroline (Eva Birthistle) to support, Jim is still the focus of his father’s rage.
Bill sees Gabriel’s return as a chance to purge the town of its lax morals, but finds not even he is spared Gabriel’s excoriation. The priest’s special wrath, however, is reserved for the local pub and his sister-in-law Caroline, the proprietor.
Daragh Carville’s script begins as a thought-provoking drama highlighting the divisive nature of fundamentalist dictates but it loses its way, turning into an uninstructive meller. Gabriel’s unbalanced nature is signaled early on when he calmly, forcefully crushes a squeaking mouse under his foot; later on, after a confrontation with Caroline, he scrubs his chest with a piece of steel wool until the flesh is raw and bleeding.
Macfadyen plays Gabriel with conviction, struggling to find the person underneath the monster, but, in the end, the script istoo over-the-top for believability or impact. The terrific Mays, a veteran of the naturalism demanded by Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, is considerably more human.
Helmer Kirk has a sophisticated sense of space, nicely organizing most of the action around the town’s square. Atmospherically, pic starts out in Irish grays and browns, but then takes on a more claustrophobic, dark-edged feel. Lighting, especially toward the end, occasionally makes figures look like they’re moving in a diorama.