Directed by Fintan Connolly.
Starring Aidan Gillen, Steve Wall, Desmond Eastwood, Liam Carney, Gary Lydon, Rúaidhrí Conroy, Ailbhe Cowley and Nick Dunning.
Val Barber, a private investigator, is hired by a wealthy widow to find her missing granddaughter. Set in Dublin against the background of a global pandemic, Barber’s initial investigation into Sara’s disappearance quickly darkens. Before too long, Barber finds himself entangled with powerful men of shady morals determined to thwart his investigation…
Viewers of a certain generation will see this and remember the days of Covid-19. Barber was produced and filming during the global pandemic of 2020/2021 and it shows. We have characters using face-masks and being reminded of their importance, reminding others about social distancing, reminding others we can’t shake hands, reminding why we need hand sanitiser, and using video calls to conduct meetings. If there is a film that acts as a historical document to how the film industry kept turning during Covid, this is it.
Away from that, Aidan Gillen leads us around a rainy, often gloomy Dublin as a private investigator searching for a missing young girl. While it is initially a bread-and-butter job for our mop-haired sleuth, he crosses paths with those willing to use blackmail, bribery, assault and intimidation to steer him away from the truth. All the while he juggles his own private life, such as forbidden romances and caring for his daughter in rehab. He’s one of the many private eyes we have seen in TV and film who do a dark and dangerous job because they love the thrill of a chase, even if it pushes them to their limits at times.
Gillen is a talented actor, and leads a cast of native Dubliners for a very authentic crime drama. Yet it’s a story that’s not very exciting to warrant a big-screen outing. It deals with very current themes that are most popular in the genre – corruption, abuse and mental trauma. Powerful men in powerful positions prey on the weak and naïve. Barber doesn’t walk the line between good and evil, he’s not that style of investigator, but he’s certainly seen and experienced enough to know when evil rears its ugly head. And like all good P.Is, he has a small team around him to help crack the case such as a desk-bound researcher, an old colleague who drowns in a pint glass helping him solve clues, and a tech-geek who bends the rules for cash in hand.
It’s the sort of crime drama that you would see on Sunday night television in a six-part series. Conversations take place in warmly lit pubs, small offices by a busy street, dark streets, cars (usually whilst holding a long lens camera). You know the drill; all on location and all practical, which is decent at least.
Director Connolly tries to inject as much character development for Barber as possible away from the crime to get you to care, and while he is a likeable chap, there’s not enough meat on the bones except him bouncing from character to character who help or hinder him. Forrest Gray provides a familiar soundtrack of chilling piano and slow-brooding strings, again making this feel like some TV drama (when you learn he composed Bridgerton, you can see the dots connecting in how he writes for the small screen).
You’ve seen this all before, and it is strange to see this attempt to break the big screen. Much more suited for small that could easily expand the characters, and give Gillen more juicy plots to follow in future, rather than this slightly lacklustre and overlong “pilot” feature.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★