The Movie Waffler New Release Review - MICHAEL INSIDE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - MICHAEL INSIDE

michael inside review
Caught holding drugs for a friend, a teen is sentenced to three months in prison.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Frank Berry

Starring: Dafhyd Flynn, Lalor Roddy, Moe Dunford, Robbie Walsh

michael inside poster

While some countries, and states within nations, have shown a progressive attitude towards the pointless war on drugs - legalising narcotics and thus largely removing the criminal element from the trade - many governments still proceed with a head in the sand attitude to the issue, ruining the lives of young men who choose a career in drug dealing because there's little else they're qualified for, and there's little else on offer.

Winner of Best Film at the 2017 IFTAs (The Irish equivalent of the Oscars), writer-director Frank Berry's Michael Inside looks at the consequences of involvement at the coal face of the drugs trade for a Dublin teenager, the titular Michael (Dafhyd Flynn). His mother having passed away from an overdose and his father rotting in prison, Michael lives with his long-suffering grandfather, Francis (a heartbreaking Lalor Roddy), in a deprived Dublin suburb where the drug dealers drive the nicest cars on the street.

michael inside

As a favour for a friend, Michael hides a bag of cocaine in his bedroom. The next morning, the cops are banging down his door, the drugs are found and Michael, refusing to grass on his friend, faces a prison sentence. Despite the best efforts of his lawyer, Michael is sentenced to three months 'inside'.

"Don't worry, we'll keep an eye on you," is the promise made by prison wardens to Michael as he is processed and thrown into the claustrophobic and nightmarish world that is his home for the next 12 weeks. It's an empty promise however, as on his first day Michael is already having his life threatened by his fellow inmates.

michael inside

In order to survive, Michael accepts an offer to be taken under the wing of long-time prisoner David (Moe Dunford), who runs a reign of terror, selling drugs to addicted inmates and administering violent retribution to anyone who fails to pay. Meanwhile on the outside, Francis finds his life threatened by the dealers whose merchandise his grandson was careless enough to lose.

Berry researched and workshopped his drama with ex-inmates of Dublin's Mountjoy prison, and the result is an authenticity absent from most of the more overtly dramatic prison thrillers we've seen on screen. American prison movies tend to focus on a black and white divide within the walls, their prisons split into clearly defined factions. The less racially divided Irish prison system isn't so easily mapped, which makes for a more paranoid experience as Michael struggles to determine who is trustworthy and who he can rely on. The young black man who shares Michael's cell is initially friendly, but talk of a struggle with controlling aggression - which landed him in the slammer to begin with - and a desire to keep his head down, possibly more than his fellow white inmates, suggests he's not someone Michael would be wise to cross. Equally ambiguous is the relationship between Michael and David, the latter veering between treating the younger man as a son and a slave.

michael inside

Berry shoots his film's prison sequences like a horror movie, making effective use of the empty space in his widescreen frame. Following Michael as he negotiates the treacherous prison corridors is akin to watching some candle-wielding gothic horror heroine explore a haunted house, the threat of violence ready to pounce at any moment. The film is cleverly edited in a way that often leaves us watching Michael's face as he waits for various meetings with unfeeling bureaucratic bodies - lawyers, college interviewers, prison governors - allowing us to process the fear and uncertainty coursing through his mind.

Flynn perfectly embodies a young man who has found himself thrown around various systems all his life, any independent spirit he may have once had long since crushed. When interviewed for a place at a community college, Michael is asked why he wishes to study Social Care. "I was told I would be good at it," is his unconvincing reply. During sentencing, the judge further dehumanises the young man by referring to him as a cog in a larger wheel. As long as uncaring systems continue to write off young working class men, many more Michaels will find themselves inside.

Michael Inside is in UK cinemas September 14th.