The Movie Waffler New to VOD - BARBER | The Movie Waffler


A private detective is hired to find a missing young woman.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Fintan Connolly

Starring: Aidan Gillen, Aisling Kearns, Gary Lydon, Helen Behan, Deirdre Donnelly, Liam Carney, Camille O’Sullivan, Irma Mali, Nick Dunning, Steve Wall

Barber poster

Irish filmmaker Fintan Connolly has been attempting to turn Dublin into a noir setting throughout his career, and this ambition reaches its apogee with detective drama Barber. Striving to evoke classic Hollywood film noir (the famous horse racing conversation between Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep is awkwardly recreated here), with its dreary Dublin setting the film lands closer to the gritty British crime shows of the '90s, but with none of the savvy writing of the likes of Spender, Prime Suspect or Cracker.

Having spent the last couple of decades establishing himself as a character actor par excellence on both sides of the Atlantic, in both movies and TV, Aidan Gillen gets a rare chance to take centre stage. He plays Val Barber, a private investigator who was kicked out of the police for reasons that gradually reveal themselves as the narrative unspools. He mostly focusses on insurance fraud and cheating spouses, so he's surprised when a wealthy woman (Deirdre Donnelly) hires him to track down her missing 20-year-old granddaughter (Isabelle Connolly).

Barber review

Using a combination of his charm and his contacts within the police, Barber begins his investigation. The girl is nowhere to be found, but as is usually the case, he uncovers a conspiracy of silence involving some very powerful figures. An old adversary from his time on the force, Inspector Quinn (Liam Carney), does his best to intimidate Barber into dropping the investigation, but the private dick persists.

There's very little to differentiate Barber from the crowded field of big and small screen private eyes, but Gillen gives a captivating performance that falls closer to Elliot Gould's Philip Marlowe from The Long Goodbye than Humphrey Bogart's Marlowe from The Big Sleep, all nervous energy and brittle cockiness. The script provides Gillen with none of the crackling dialogue of either of those movies however, even when it's directly riffing on the latter, but Gillen manages to elevate the dialogue, which is functional at best, clunky at worst.

Barber review

What distinguishes Barber from other screen PIs is his bisexuality (insert your own "Something for the weekend?" joke here), which lead to the end of his marriage and left his teenage daughter with some emotional scars. This subplot takes up a sizeable chunk of the movie, distracting from the central investigation plot to such a degree that it’s easy to forget Barber is on a case. With so much attention to the world and the people on the protagonist's periphery, Barber is a film that seems desperate to spawn a TV series. It plays a lot like an extended pilot episode, with subplots that could be fleshed out in subsequent episodes but which seem pointless and distracting in a standalone movie.

Gillen brings enough to the title character to suggest a TV series might be a success, but it would require a more involving set of cases than the dreary one he's lumbered with here. The film comments on such topics as the rapid changes in Irish society in recent years and the MeToo movement, but it does so through clumsy dialogue exchanges (at one point a character actually says "Do you remember when all that MeToo stuff came out?", just in case we missed the subtext) rather than embedding such themes organically in the narrative.

Barber review

Barber often forgets it's a thriller, with a distinct lack of thrills. The eponymous meddling dick is subjected to the usual harassment - including the stock scene of him finding his office (which like his apartment, is located in the sort of prime Dublin real estate nobody of his means could dream of affording) has been ransacked – but we never get the sense that he or anyone around him is in any real danger. It all wraps up with a twist that plays like both Barber and the audience has been cheated.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.