The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE SPARROW | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE SPARROW

The Sparrow review
A troubled teenager is racked with guilt over a deadly secret.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Kinirons

Starring: Ollie West, David O’Hara, Éanna Hardwicke, Aisling O’Sullivan, Isabelle Connolly, Dara Devaney, Mark O’Halloran

The Sparrow poster

"Why can't you be normal?"

It's a question many an insensitive parent has asked of a child at some point, but one whose answer they usually don't want to hear. That's certainly the case with Larry (David O'Hara), the gruff Irish patriarch of the family at the centre of Michael Kinirons' directorial debut The Sparrow. Larry asks the question of his troubled teenage son Kevin (Ollie West), but deep down he knows the answer. Kevin knows it too but he isn't willing to rile up his old man further by verbalising it. Besides, this is a military family in rural Ireland, not the place for men to be expressing their emotions.

The Sparrow review

Kevin can't be "normal" because he's still scarred by the death of his mother, killed in a car crash alongside the man with whom she was having an affair. Larry, and Kevin's older brother Robbie (Éanna Hardwicke), refuse to ever speak of her, but Kevin secretly retreats into the arms of her memory, donning her leather jacket, Pogues t-shirt and even applying her lipstick. If the latter suggests Kevin's sexuality might be another bone of contention for his hyper-masculine father, this idea is soon dismissed when Kevin encounters Hanna (Isabelle Connolly), a pretty and charismatic girl who appears to show interest in Kevin. Hanna's curiosity is purely platonic however - her interest in this wounded boy is mirrored by Kevin nursing the titular wounded bird back to health - and Kevin retreats back into his shell when his awkward advances are rebuffed. A dagger is plunged further into Kevin's heart when he discovers Hanna has been secretly seeing Robbie.

In movies, whenever two characters head out onto a body of water in a rickety vessel, you can be sure only one of them will return. That's the case here, as Kevin causes an accident by lashing out in a moment of rage. His guilt and inability to confess fuels the ensuing drama. As the local community rallies, Kevin only becomes more isolated, but his father begins to display hints of a previously unexpressed warmth amid the tragedy.

The Sparrow review

The Sparrow is mostly an understated portrayal of some very Irish men and their repressed feelings. Larry, of course, can only open up when he has a pint glass in his hand, leading to a beautifully played scene in which he takes Kevin for drinks in the local pub. The scene begins in sinister fashion as Larry intimidates the barman into serving his underage son. We fear for how Larry might behave when a heart full of regret is combined with a belly full of beer, but the scene takes a surprising twist as Larry recounts his own father's inability to communicate with his son.

As Kevin, West just about avoids falling into surly teen cliches and grows into the role as guilt eats away at Kevin's already gnawed-on soul. The standout performance is O'Hara, who encapsulates a certain type of Irish male, a descendant of a long line of men who refused to acknowledge their feelings. Rising star Hardwicke is very good as a young man who may not be all that comfortable with his "favourite son" designation.

The Sparrow review

Ironically, given its quiet condemnation of repression, The Sparrow succeeds best when it keeps its own emotions under wraps. Kevin and Larry are powder kegs of concealed emotions, but the inevitable explosion sees the film veer a little too close to melodrama. The subplot that gives the film its title is a tad on-the-nose and ultimately adds very little to the narrative. While The Sparrow lacks the depth of recent Irish dramas that have interrogated the soul of their nation (The Quiet Girl; Lakelands; That They May Face the Rising Sun), it's a worthwhile addition to this growing canon of films that attempt to get to the concealed heart of Ireland.

The Sparrow is in UK/ROI cinemas from July 5th.

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