It's only a matter of time before Jack Reynor becomes a major movie star. The 24-year-old Irish actor first grabbed Hollywood's attention in the 2012 indie "What Richard Did." Since then, he's been a standout in smaller parts, such as "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and John Carney's upcoming rock musical, "Sing Street."
But it's in writer-director Gerard Barrett's "Glassland" that Reynor really shows what he can do.
Reynor stars as John, an affable Dublin cab driver who doesn't get to be as carefree as his mates, because he has to keep tabs on two people: his institutionalized brother Kit (Harry Nagle), who has Down syndrome; and his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette), who frequently disappears for days on benders, leaving their flat trashed and their bills unpaid.
In "Glassland," the situation reaches a crisis point when a doctor recommends a life-saving rehab stint for Jean that John can't afford. With his best friend Shane (Will Poulter) getting ready to leave town and his mother also in danger of slipping away, a lonely, desperate John considers selling his services to the mob.
Barrett — a filmmaker in his 20s — can't avoid some of the cliches of miserablist kitchen sink drama. British and Irish cinema are filled with stories of working-class families torn apart by excessive drinking. For the most part, "Glassland" doesn't bring anything new to the genre. Even when Jean delivers a long monologue explaining why she's can't quit boozing, her reasons sound a little pat ... more like a clinical case-study than a rich back story.
But Collette delivers that speech with real nuance and pathos. She's matched beat-for-beat by Reynor, who plays John as someone deeply enraged by what his life has become, yet trying hard not to let it show. His performance — fractured yet strong — is a big reason why "Glassland" works so well.
It's not the only reason, though. Barrett makes great use of his lead, crafting a character sketch about a young man who is hobbled in some ways by his memories of better times.
In the movie's best scene, as mother and son dance to an old pop song, the look on Reynor's face speaks volumes about loss and hope. It's a look that's going to be breaking hearts on screen for decades to come.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills