“Familiar tricks make the film predictable and its originality is unfortunately sold short”
Writer/director Phillip Doherty makes his feature debut with Redemption of a Rogue, a story about a long-absent son returning to his hometown hoping to make amends. Set in a rural Irish town the film offers a wry sense of humour as it tackles the fairly bleak subjects of death, suicide and the end of the world. Seen through the eyes of central character Jimmy (Aaron Monaghan) the town seems to be disconnected from the rest of society. Isolated in its own bubble of perpetual rain, with an increasingly bizarre series of events Jimmy begins to suspect that it may well exist in its own version of reality.
There are a lot of familiar tricks that the film uses to tell its story. Much of its camera work, and its sense of humour, seem to be borrowed from Elia Suliman. Using the camera as a neatly framed, but passive eye it captures ordinary moments of village life in a slightly bizarre context. Small interactions happen at the peripheral, only just caught on camera as the lens swings passed them. This inevitably sparks a ‘taken aback’ reaction from Jimmy, which the film uses to generate most of its comedy rather than straight-forward jokes. However, this isn’t used diversely or originally enough to produce much laughter. Indeed, it doesn’t take long to recognise from the framing that a joke is coming and it somewhat loses its impact.
Another touchstone appears to be the Coen brothers. Nearly every instance of dialogue is filmed in their typical shot/reverse shot style. However, where the Coens use this to enhance the almost unique rhythm of their scripts, the impact here isn’t quite as effective and even grows a bit tedious. Doherty’s script is full of mumbling, meandering lines whose effect are eventually lost by the constant cutting to silent reaction shots. It’s not that the writing is bad, but it is naturally slow and short-winded and it’s made to feel even more drawn out than necessary by its unhappy marriage to the visual style. The Coens are also known for dropping unexpected twists or situations on their characters and this too seems to be a very obvious influence. As a result, several moments – such as the sudden death of Jimmy’s father and other, later character revelations – feel predictable or, at least, unsurprising.
However, there are moments and ideas in Redemption of a Rogue which are genuinely very interesting. Following the death of his father the town is drenched in rain that lasts days. Jimmy is then left with the body, as his father refused to be buried on a rainy day. He’s stuck waiting, trying to do the right thing but unable to because the world itself seems to be conspiring against him. The constant rain, and the surreal behaviour it appears to be inspiring in the townsfolk, helps Jimmy to realise that there might be something wrong with the world rather than something wrong with him. It takes a while to reveal itself, but it soon becomes clear that this is a biblical parable, where Jimmy is being challenged but ultimately saved by an act of God. It’s an interesting set-up which creeps gradually into the film, slowly revealing new details; a pub band start to take on the role of a Greek chorus, the rain itself may be a plague.
This does add an extra dimension to the fairly simple plot, but it still isn’t enough to carry the whole film. Between these philosophical moments there is a lot of waffle. Made worse by the lacklustre humour and the poorly-paced dialogue. Jimmy aside, most of the characters don’t feel real, used more as mouthpieces for commentary on divinity and philosophy. Doherty’s style may improve with further development but on more than one occasion Redemption of a Rogue comes very close to completely disengaging its audience even as it tries to explain itself to them.
Dir: Phillip Doherty
Wri: Phillip Doherty
Prod: Emma Foley, Tamryn Reinecke
Header image courtesy of Wildcard Distribution.