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


When an assault leaves him with head injuries, a Gaelic footballer refuses to change his lifestyle.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Robert Higgins, Patrick McGivney

Starring: Éanna Hardwicke, Danielle Galligan, Lorcan Cranitch, Dafhyd Flynn, Dara Devaney, Gary Lydon

Lakelands poster

Ireland's most popular sport, Gaelic Football, attracts some of the biggest sporting crowds in Europe, yet even at the top level the majority of players take part on an amateur level, essentially balancing their day jobs with their sporting profession. At the lower county level it can often be taken just as seriously, with small towns and villages centering their community around the local team. A young man might have to be up at dawn to milk his farm's cows, but if he's a footballer he'll have to get up even earlier to get some training in before he sets about his day job. While there are no financial rewards, if you do well you'll become a local hero who never has to pay for a pint in the village pub. This can have its downside, with the pressure of an entire town weighing on the shoulders of a young man.

Lakelands, the debut feature of writer-directors Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney, is centred on just such a figure. In his mid-twenties, Cian (Éanna Hardwicke) is either living a contented life or is stuck in a rut, depending on your point of view. He enjoys working alongside his father Diarmuid (Lorcan Cranitch) on the family farm, playing for the local Gaelic team, and getting smashed on the weekend, and somehow he's managed to balance all three.

Lakelands review

Cian's routine is disrupted when he takes a beating outside a nightclub, leaving him with what he initially believes to be minor head injuries. A check-up reveals that he's suffering from concussion. His doctor advises him to give up football, drinking and working on the farm. Of course, being a stubborn Irish male, Cian ignores the medical advice and tries to continue on with his ways. He's only fooling himself though. Unable to rely on his son, Diarmuid employs a replacement for Cian, who is similarly replaced in his team by a rising youth team star. All that's left for Cian is drink and drugs.

Cian's path to self-destruction is blocked by the return of an old sweetheart, Grace (Danielle Galligan, something of an Irish Sharon Stone), who left for London eight years ago and is back to tend to her dying father. While he's unable to discuss his health issues and the resulting fears for his future with his male peers, Cian is more comfortable opening up to Grace, who displays a maturity he and his friends have yet to reach. Grace lets Cian know from the off that she has a boyfriend back in London and that there will be no rekindling of any past desires. Cian says he's fine with that, and while initially he's probably fooling himself, he comes to value her as a friend.

Lakelands review

Platonic relationships between men and women are rarely portrayed on screen, yet when done well they can be more charged than romantic couplings. That's the case here, and while we grow so fond of Cian and Grace that we might root for them to get together, at the same time we hope the movie is more honest in its intentions. While they might look cute making googly eyes at one another, relationships require a lot more than mere attraction, and sad as it may seem, these are two people who are really poles apart in their life trajectories. Or as Cian puts it, in small town Ireland there are two types of people, those who stay and those who leave.

Lakelands is an Irish cousin of Chloe Zhao's first two movies, Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider. Like the latter it's about a young man forced to adjust to an uncertain future due to an injury. As with the protagonist of that movie, Cian feels like he owes his community his sporting presence, and also feels the pressure of their hopes and dreams. Cian is unable to express his fears verbally, keeping everything bottled up and pretending it's all "grand." It's a very Irish mentality that makes for very cinematic storytelling. Irish people rarely verbalise what's on our minds, so it's up to a filmmaker to use imagery to convey our psychology. Hardwicke and Galligan do a fine job of masking their respective troubles while kidding about with one another, but we can read their faces and see what they're really feeling. Hardwicke shoulders the bulk of the movie, appearing in every scene, and by the end we feel like we know Cian better than he might know himself. While given less screen time, Galligan is equally impactful, particularly in a scene where she arrives on Cian's doorstep ostensibly for a chat and a cup of tea, but we can see a trembling in her eyes that Cian can't pick up on because he's too busy feeling sorry for himself.

Lakelands review

Like Zhao's Songs My Brothers Taught Me, Lakelands is about a young man who resists the pressure to leave his community because as primitive as it might seem from the outside, it's his home, and where he feels he belongs. Much of Lakelands can make life in rural Ireland seem like a monotonous drag, reliant upon the distractions of sport and alcohol to get through another week, but occasionally the film will pause to observe Cian as he looks over land and lakes and takes in their beauty, breathing deep breaths of clean country air perfumed by cow shite. Sure it could be worse. As Jaws' Chief Brody wisely put it, it's only an island if you look at it from the water.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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