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Nobody Annoys You When You're Down and Out

MOVIE REVIEW
Treacle Jr. (2010)

Treacle-jr-jamie-thraves-aidan-gillen-tom-fisher
54th BFI London Film Festival

Writer-director Jamie Thraves marks a return to his independent roots with his deeply personal third feature, "Treacle Jr." Speaking at a screening at the BFI London Film Festival, Mr. Thraves revealed his motivation behind making the film: "Maintaining spirit and energy is so crucial in film. I wanted to be purely independent and didn't want to feel like I was trying to please someone else ... I stand by every frame, I'm really proud of it." He has every reason to be, because "Treacle Jr." is a wonderful, surprising treat of a film.

Effectively a three-hander anchored by a trio of terrific performances, "Treacle Jr." tells the story of the development of an unconventional friendship between the troubled Tom (an insular Tom Fisher) and Aidan (an affable Aidan Gillen), a juvenile, excitable yet endearingly eccentric individual.

"Treacle Jr.'s" exposition witnesses Tom seemingly walking out on life with his wife and baby as he heads to London, destroys his credit cards and dumps his phone in a pond. During this sequence, Mr. Thraves employs some highly effective and authentic hand-held-over-the-shoulder camera shots that help convey the feeling that Tom — for reasons unknown — is walking away from his past. Sleeping rough, Tom soon winds up in the emergency room where he encounters Aidan, who immediately latches onto him much to his chagrin.

After further misfortune, Aidan takes Tom to his flat which he share with his bullying and aggressive girlfriend Linda (the wonderfully callous Riann Steele). Witnessing Linda's manipulative behavior, Tom comes to sympathize with Aidan, a bond that is further strengthened when he comes to Aidan's aid when he's on the receiving end of a vicious beating, one he endures with a fixed smile on his face, a simple yet defiant gesture that perfectly encapsulates his joie de vivre and spirit. Aidan's positive and indeed naïve outlook on life softens Tom's gruff and abrasive exterior, yet the cracks reveal themselves once more during a visit to a psychic, where Tom betrays his turbulent and lonely soul in a moment of weakness.

Yet, Aidan's childish dreams of fame (he longs to form a one-man drum band) and optimistic spin on almost everything continue to have an almost therapeutic effect on Tom, helping him resolve his issues on his terms until he's ready to venture home. In addition and unbeknownst to him, Tom's protective manner towards Aidan instills in him the strength to stand up to an increasingly wayward Linda, seizing back control over his life in the same instant. It's a charming, heart-warming tale of how strangers can stumble into each other's lives unexpectedly and — despite little common ground — have a profound and lasting effect on one another.

Tom and Aidan's journey is tinged with pathos and redemption, yet it rightly steers well clear of any semblance of saccharine over sentimentality with the narrative clearly benefiting from its almost theatrical feel, as Mr. Thraves's workshopped script is expertly realized by the three leads. Mr. Gillen in particular is exceptional, his awkward Irish lilt and genial yet incredibly vulnerable persona demanding compassion that is perhaps unwarranted given his is perhaps the least flawed character of the three. Mr. Fisher meanwhile manages to deliver an understated and very measured performance, effectively hinting at Tom's inner demons without giving into them altogether, while Ms. Steele's Linda is as repugnant a character as any.

Yet perhaps "Treacle Jr.'s" greatest success lies in its fiercely independent spirit. It's a stark reminder of the joys of independent cinema, wherein the smallest stories produced on the smallest budgets can in fact be the ones that resonate the loudest.

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