UK Film Review
Brian Stynes’ feature debut Penitent is a sharp and moving drama that challenges the audience to think and feel on their own, resulting in a film that is both emotionally complex and thoroughly entertaining.
Michael Linehan stars as Jason, a man trying to adjust to life after prison. Beset with guilt and paranoia, Jason struggles to keep it together, living in a house with just a sleeping bag and seeing his few friendships drift away. The film keeps the details of Jason’s past hidden at first, not only creating a mystery for the audience but also allowing his character to be sympathized with. As the clever and well polished script slowly reveals more, the film begins to challenge our sympathetic view of Jason and therefore creates a character who is complex, believable, and utterly engaging.
The brilliant script only sets up the character, and it is Linehan who seals it, giving one of the finest performances I’ve seen in an indie film. His fellow cast members aren’t too far behind either. The film is filled to the brim with talented actors, giving great natural performances. The combination of such a well written script and such fine acting is a real joy. There is a simplicity to Penitent that is often forgotten about by other filmmakers. Stynes never feels the need to over complicate the story or add unnecessary dramatic moments. The film’s focus is entirely on the characters and how their lives intertwine in a wretched and unfair world. The film isn’t challenging audiences in how the engage with it, like many overly complex story arcs, but how they react to it. The film has no one clear message and instead allows you to question how actions of both the past and present should be perceived.
Stynes has created something that is both thought provoking and entertaining. It is a bold film that succeeds through the talent of those involved in its creation. A real gem.
British International Amateur Film Festival
Best Actor Award
The BIAFF final adjudication panel was asked to consider this film for the Best Acting award in respect of Michael Linehan’s performance as Jason.
The panel agreed that Michael’s performance was, indeed, outstanding. If we had awards for writing and directing, this film would possibly win those too. This was a powerful, thought-provoking film that reminded us of some of Ken Loach’s work.
In Jason we saw an intensely emotional man struggling to cope with paranoid fears of his discovery and retribution, together with haunting flashbacks and feelings of remorse for the hurt he has caused. Scenes depicting his mostly isolated existence in the sparse surroundings of his unfurnished bedsit came over powerfully.
His character was portrayed genuinely throughout, with so much coming through his body language and facial expressions alone. We found ourselves being drawn to and eventually feeling sorry for someone who was essentially a child killer. Just as we start to see Jason starting to rebuild his life it suddenly unravels. He is violently assaulted by his victim’s mother. Shortly afterwards his anger at seeing harm done to young Amy is the trigger that causes him to snap, culminating in a most violent ending.
Indie Spotlight Network
This film focuses on the post prison life of Jason Buckley. Imprisoned for possession of illegal substances and dangerous driving that ended in the accidental death of a child, Jason is finding it difficult to adjust to life outside prison. Although, the drugs were not his, Jason believes that the drug dealers will come looking for him for payment.
While trying to remain anonymous in his new life, he finds it extremely difficult to adapt because of his crushing guilt, being pursued by the mother of the dead boy and having difficulty fitting in to his new neighborhood.
The superb acting of Michael Linehan helped hold the story together.
The film utilizes an abundance of close up shots and artistic camera angles which at some points caused the reviewer to become distracted from the storyline.
The pacing seemed a bit drawn out relying on multiple “B Roll” shots to advance the story and seemed a bit difficult to follow at times.
The titles flow well into the image and are visually pleasing.
The background sounds was over powering at moments throughout the film.
Overall, the reviewer enjoyed the concept of the storyline. There were several scenes that the acting of Mr. Linehan absolutely nailed it!
This film provides an inside look into a difficult subject matter and makes you feel the guilt of the main character.
Indie Spotlight Network Film Rating
Overall Score 6.375 out of 10 Stars
With the likes of The Boxer, Michael Collins, The Wind that Shakes the Barley and In the Name of the Father to name a few, Ireland has produced many incredible and powerful dramas through the years. With a country that is rich in history, personality and identity; there is a basis for many more tales to told and be created within the Emerald Isles. Now, independent filmmaker Brian Stynes and writer/actor Michael Linehan have combined forces to create a low-budget and enthralling piece set in their homeland. Jason Buckley (played by Michael Linehan) has been serving four years in prison for manslaughter – he accidentally killed a child in his car and was caught with a stash of marijuana that wasn’t actually his. Upon his release, Jason, who is diminutive in stature and easy prey for bullies and manipulators, finds it difficult to cope with the past tragedy and tries to get by. He finds a local job and reacquaints himself with some old friends alongside making a couple of new ones in the process. Yet still, his past returns to haunt him at every turn.
Penitent is a well-made movie that runs for just over seventy minutes. Of course, it’s not perfect and does suffer at times from audio (especially on a couple of exterior scenes) and a few camera issues but that is to be expected when created with a small crew. What it does have going for it, is an excellent story, great performances and a fantastic and bleak ending to sign-off with. It’s a wise choice by Stynes and Linehan to end the movie in such a way, after all, real-life isn’t all sunshine, rainbows and yellow-brick roads; it can be like a dangerous ocean forever battering a rock face until it erodes, breaks down and engulfed. Linehan is believable as Jason and does well in bringing life to his (and Stynes’) creation. We, the audience, can’t help but feel sorry for this man who has obviously had a tough life, and that’s before the accident. We root for him throughout and can’t help but feel shocked and surprised by the time the end credits begin to roll. As stated, Linehan is surrounded by
some very capable actors. There are no weak links in the cast at all.
Stynes has done a great job in creating an enthralling and hard-hitting drama with little money. Credit has to be given to all involved. They set out on a mission to create something that is both good and interesting and they certainly succeeded. Penitent will probably sweep up a few awards whilst on its festival journey and it will be well deserved
The Dublin Inquirer
Shot on an ultra-low budget, Penitent is a bleak slice-of-life drama that showcases the passion of its cast and crew in every frame.
Jason (Michael Linehan) is released from prison to little fanfare. On the outside, he continues to live in a prison of his own making. Always paranoid and looking over his shoulder, he has no friends to speak of, and sleeps with a flick blade by his side.
A small budget doesn’t have to stand in the way of producing a good film. Some lowbudget films – the latest Bulgarian Steven Seagal action flick, for example – are derided because they pretend to be big, and don’t take advantage of their small scale.
Penitent’s low budget works in its favour. The handheld, point-and-shoot nature of the film makes it look like a docudrama. It’s a gritty film, that looks and feels realistic because of its pared-back nature.
Vignettes run alongside Jason’s story and give us a better sense of the community in which he lives.
Penitent’s world is grim. And there is no escape in sight for Jason or his neighbours. At home, Jason watches cartoons on his computer, knife in hand. The sound effects and circus style become eerie as they fail to drown out the noises coming from the unhappy homes that make up this grey street. This is where second chances come to die.
Jason has some small success through his work as a cleaner and handyman at a local office building. The management and his mentor are happy with his progress and there appears to be a modicum of hope for him away from home. The rest of Jason’s life is not as promising. He is verbally abused by a gang of teenagers as he walks to his flat, security guards watch him closely at the shops, and local criminals coerce him with threats of violence.
Michael Linehan is short and stocky, he looks like a bruiser, but plays Jason as timid and vulnerable. Now and then, we see a childlike glint in his eyes.
Dublin-born director Brian Stynes and the cast bring an improvisational feeling to the film. Camerawork often feels covert, as if we are spying on the characters. Onlookers get caught up in some crowd sequences, which adds to the film’s cinéma vérité feel.
Linehan and the other cast members perform to the strengths of Stynes’ determined and intimate directing style. These are quiet performances. Even at their loudest moments, they feel grounded, heavy with the weight of the world.
UK Film Review
Punching its way onto screens with a vivacious smack to the face, Whirlpool presents an engaging premise but an overly simplistic solution that worryingly treats violence with cathartic reverence. Though it admirably highlights the pressing social issue of abusive carers and more prominently presents a protagonist with a disability in a position of control, its ferocious attitude disturbingly suggests an un-ironic belief that releasing pent up anger is the best way to encourage meaningful change.
Jimmy (Michael Linehan) is a martial arts hobbyist whose father (Bill Tobin) is slowly losing his mind to dementia. Convinced that the old man’s carer Tim (Thomas Leggett) is messing with him for his amusement, Jimmy opts to take matters into his own hands.
The characterisation of our lead is apparent from the beginning. He’s a man knocked down by life with a strong (if misguided) sense of right and wrong. His continuous refusal to allow his disability to get in the way of day to day mundanities is immediately engaging. This likability is extenuated by his father’s tragic situation and Bill Tobin’s
haunting performance which creates deeply rooted audience sympathy. Regrettably then, when the ‘might is right’ mindset takes over, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand Jimmy’s reasoning. While slimy Tim might well deserve a good thrashing, we know that after the camera stops rolling, the consequences of this action will be abrupt and brutal for our young protagonist.
It’s challenging then to assess the problematic versus the empowering when it comes to Whirlpool. On the one hand, it focuses on a man with a disability (a depressingly rare sight) and has him overcome the adversity of an oppressive force in a position of care. However, the method by which Jimmy obtains this empowerment is troubling. Had Tim instigated the violence, we would firmly align with Jimmy. As the script is now, it’s firstly difficult to understand the true extent of Tim’s treachery and secondly, Jimmy’s assault is just that; an assault. Had the film re-contextualised this with a final scene that shows the
implications of such a mistake, it could’ve made an excellent cautionary tale. That would of course have relied on the filmmaker’s acknowledgement that said action was indeed, a mistake.
One of the less frustrating elements of Whirlpool is the often-excellent filmmaking on display. Ignoring the pointless intertitles, performances are strong and the gritty, realism infused tone is exemplified by a shaky camera. Director Bryan Stynes takes his time, favouring long, extreme close ups that enhance Jimmy’s intensity. That said, the mise-en-scené is somewhat bland, characterised by dull colour grading and uninteresting sets. Of course, in a realism focused piece this is expected, but it nevertheless makes for a rather grey film with an aesthetic that matches its problematic message.
A case could be made for Whirlpool as an uplifting story of a disabled man reclaiming responsibility from those who subjugate both he and his father. Had Jimmy’s plight ended with social intervention or a brutal scolding with reasoned arguments that brought
smarmy Tim down a peg or two, I’d have firmly been in both his and the film’s camp. As it is, Whirlpool is a problematic film that revels in outdated notions of violence as a solution, not a problem. However, its bad doesn’t wholly outweigh its good. Michael Linehan dazzles as Jimmy, and the work off camera for the progression of filmmakers and actors with disabilities is immensely commendable, as is its commentary on corrupt carers. Just be sure to take its ‘might is right’ message with a grain of salt.
72 Miles Review
A pleasant story about a man’s memories of attending a hurling final as a boy in Dublin. The 16mm overlay and tint was very effective, blending in nicely with the later historical footage of Dublin and the match. The period costumes, props and car served the story well. The script was engaging and appropriate, yielding to the period dialogue at the correct time. The overall camera work was generally good.
Coast Road Review
A man reminisces of a time in the mid-90s when he was dragged on a trip at 14 years of age.
His mom and a few other residents of his estate hired a bus to tour the coastal side of Cork.
However tragedy strikes in the middle of the journey. This jovial trip suddenly turns sinister
as the paranoid bus driver tries to figure out exactly who and what to trust on this journey.
Coast Road takes a cavalcade of local Cork actors (and even some non-professionals) and puts
them in an enclosed space to just act out in what feels like a slice of life adventure for the
first act. This all works with some careful and honest character writing as well as a cavalcade
of references to the time period. Discounted PlayStations (PlayStation Ones even!), video
cassette recordings of The Rock and Robbie Williams from Take That stories abound. While it
doesn’t hit you over the head with the nostalgia it makes the experience feel all the more authentic.
Also helping is how these folks interact. You really feel like they’re (mostly) a close-knit community that was sadly dying out around this time period in Ireland. I just recognise a lot of familiar idioms of my own childhood-like the exasperation of hearing your mom and a friend gossip about nonsense-and it really makes you feel at home. This, of course, changes with a twist some time passed the first act which puts a much more sinister edge onto the tale.
There’s some great tension built up here; the use of the enclosed space and the disquieting driving really amps up suspicion. However, part of the issue is that there are certain important characters that do not feel sufficiently built up until the moment right before we need to turn into this twist. While there’s reasons given for our lack of depth prior it honestly feels like they were writing an entirely different movie until they got to this point rather than feeling earned or built into. While I shan’t spoil the reveal, it’s a little muddled on the logistical end and leaves us with more questions than answers.
Brian Stynes does a lot with a modest production and there are some great spots and landscapes here that look great and cleverly integrated into the plot. Cork has such a naturally beautiful aesthetic more filmmakers should take advantage of. It’s also able to balance the character interactions in a way where a lot of the key players feel well developed with nobody standing out above the rest. However, the bus scenes do feel a little fumbled and you really get the lack of space available for shooting. This is a logistical problem that couldn’t have been tackled but they stood out to me as we spend a lot of the movie on this bus.
Coast Road is a very enjoyable film with some solid intrigue and dynamic layered character work where it counts. While the mystery thriller element feels a little undercooked, you do grow attached to our group with some great naturalistic acting and a feel for the time period which can hit on your nostalgia if you’re around that age without it feeling smothered in that sensibility. It’s a ropey film in a lot of places but it’s an enjoyable little trip that turns very dark very quickly.
Coast Road Review
When I think of murder mysteries, Clue and Knives Out come to mind.
The former stars the force of nature that is Tim Curry, amongst a
stellar cast who all rapid-fire lines from a witty script, while
the latter is fun in a different way. These two films are at the
top of my list in the genre. A movie doesn’t have to follow their
template to be enjoyable, though, and I’m glad that director/co-writer
Brian Stynes and co-writer Mike O’Dowd went their own way with Coast Road.
The first half of the hour and seven minutes total runtime is spent with
the audience as a fly on the wall for a bus trip off of the coast of West
Ireland in 1996 (as told to us in voiceover by an older version of one of
the characters). Cinematographer Philip Connelly includes some beautiful
scenic shots, while the cast comes off as quite authentic and natural.
So much so that there were times when I had difficulty deciphering the
English being spoken with thick Irish accents, but that only added to
The second half becomes a murder mystery when a passenger on the bus is
found dead. Was it from natural causes or something more sinister? The bus
driver (Paul Broderick) starts to suspect the latter when he sees passengers
seemingly whispering amongst each other.
Coast Road is a tale of two films since the first half is light and
conversational, while the second takes on a darker, more paranoid vibe.
I enjoyed both because the cast, direction, and script were all interesting
and believable. The upbeat, faster-paced Irish music at the beginning matches
the tone, giving way to more of a tension-filled score by Mark McMillan in
the second half. Much like the narrative, both were done well despite the
completely different styles. I do wish that the movie had been a little
longer in order to dig deeper into some of the characters, but as it is,
the story moved along briskly.
Dave (played beautifully by Michael Linehan) is great as a mouthy,
quick-witted hustler who reminded me a bit of Paul Scheer from The League.
He is the star, with such a magnetic screen presence, despite his diminutive
stature. Guys like him and Tom Cruise (in completely different ways) prove
that height really doesn’t matter in cinema. Alison Glennie as Muriel is
also superb with a more nuanced and subtle performance as a lonely character
who likes to gossip at times.
Coast Road adds up to an enjoyable experience overall. The mystery itself won’t
blow your mind, like some other entries in the genre, but it doesn’t have to.
We as a culture are often too obsessed with things being “the best ever” when
we should just enjoy them for what they are.
Coast Road Review
Coast Road is a film revolving around a simple bus tour,or so you think. Blending a handheld style with beautiful shots of the Irish countryside, the film is gripping and engaging due in part by the stellar acting present and pacing of the film. This is how you take a simple idea and turn it into an amazing project, one that genuinely keeps you engaged throughout.
The cinematography is very good and also purposeful. There is a reason why the film is shot mostly handheld. For one, it puts the audience in the same predicament as the main cast. You’re always in the action, only detouring when long sections of travel need to be made. Those parts act as a breather to the tension, or in some cases builds tension. The lighting stays consistent throughout. Seeing it change after the dead passenger is introduced to show more shadows was a nice touch. It’s conveying emotion without telling the audience through dialogue. The audio was very crisp, even audible outside in different types of weather. The only note on audio would be that some of the accents presented make certain words or phrases hard to understand, so subtitles may have made this less of an issue. This won’t apply to everyone, and it’s nobody's fault, just the option would be appreciated. Technically speaking, the film is amazing.
The narrative is also really good. At first, the film seems very slow. With context, the beginning is perfect. It introduces all the characters and lets the audience get to know them as people. This wouldn’t be possible if the actors weren’t as good as they are. Everyone should be proud of their performances. The first half is very different from the second half, but you need the slower pace of the first to really elevate the second half. Also, once the dead passenger is introduced, the film doesn’t devolve into manic panic. It takes its time with the characters and doesn’t feel fake. The biggest strength of the film is that it knows when to have levity and when to take itself seriously. The ending is quite morbid, but refreshing in that it doesn’t try to uplift unnecessarily.
To make a film that takes place primarily in a bus and is solely driven by the performances is impressive in and of itself. For it to be amazing is an even greater achievement. Keep up the great work!
Coast Road Review
This short and vivid drama tells the story of a seemingly typical bus trip around Ireland in the mid-90s
from a fly-on-the-wall perspective narrated by the grown-up version (Derek Murphy) of teenage boy Killian
(David Tobin), the youngest member of the excursion. The main organizer of the trip is Davey Burke
(Michael Linehan), a chronically ill man with various business plans of a shady nature. Despite this,
he seems to be friends (or at least friendly) with everyone at the housing project where he lives.
A handful of others accept his initial invitation including Killian’s mother to the young man’s dismay.
Another of that handful and an unexpected member of the day tour is Tommy Killeen (Brian Collins). Killian
doesn’t know what to make of Killeen besides what some adults whisper about him and that his mother has
forbidden him to even acknowledge the man. After several hours of driving, Tommy Killeen suffers some sort
of medical episode and dies during a rest stop. No one notices until the bus is back in motion, spurring a
bizarre and horrific search for civilization along Ireland’s rural coast roads.
The strongest aspects of this drama are its outstanding actors, rapid-fire characterization, and well-written,
natural dialogue. Within moments my disbelief was suspended by the outstanding performances: It was like I was
in the tour bus riding along with them. Two-thirds of the way through the film, however, a bout of terrible
sound design, choppy shots, and total cessation of the narration completely killed the mood, the story, and my
I’m sure the filmmakers meant for this to be a transition from coming-of-age boredom to a murder mystery, but
the music they chose sounded like a Halloween sounds CD more than ‘there’s a killer among us.’ The frame
narration also confuses me, as many of the things the elder Killian tells us are told to us through other
characters, making the narration redundant throughout most of the film. Despite these issues, Coast Road was
engaging, interesting, and quite the thinker mystery-wise. Lovers of drama and Irish culture will find great
enjoyment in this film. Coast Road is an excellent film and is highly recommended.
What type of film series would this title belong in?
Any series or festival about Irish film or art would benefit from the addition of Coast Road.
What type of university professor would be interested in this film?
Film professors should consider this hour-long film to show students what can be done with minimal casting and sets.
UK Film Review
Coast Road Review
Most people will have at least one story of a coach ride from their childhood. Whether it be a school outing or visit to the seaside it will trigger memories for mostly the wrong reasons. A grown up Killian (Derek Murphy) narrates this affecting tale of a coach trip taken with his mother as a boy. The West Cork coast provides the backdrop as a coach loaded with characters begins a journey of discovery. They have secrets to keep and stories to tell as a web of entwined lives gently unravels.
Dave Burke (Michael Linehan) has organised the trip and is the local fixer. He can get you anything you want for a price, only don’t ask him where he got it from. Alice (Ann Dorgan) surveys life in forensic detail and happily swaps gossip with Fran (Maria O'Callaghan). The thuggish and moody Shane (Paul J. Coffey) adds tension to an otherwise relaxed atmosphere. The jovial mood is turned on its head when a mysterious man (Brian Collins) suddenly dies. Driver Jer (Paul Broderick) turns detective, and is convinced the passengers know a lot more than they’re letting on. They claim to know little about him but still waters often run deep.
Coast Road ticks all the right boxes and makes full use of the spectacular Irish coast. Director Brian Stynes captures real geniality with characters that are instantly endearing. The partially improvised script co-written by Mike O’Dowd crackles with humour and mischief. The plotting lands squarely in Agatha Christie territory as the coach assumes an earthy equivalence to the Orient Express. A marvellous intimacy is created and the viewer is able to eavesdrop on conversations that feel natural and believable.
There is real skill in portraying drama that flows from one premise into something entirely different. The film begins as a cosy almost nostalgic snapshot of a simple life. The coach is a microcosm of a close knit community where people lived in each other’s pockets. The death then changes the tenor and everyone on board becomes a suspect. The climax brings the story to a satisfactory conclusion, but is made possible by an excellent cast delivering well-judged performances.
Script To Indie
Coast Road Review
YOUR GUESS IS AS good as mine, or anyone else's, in this who-done-it style of mystery.
"When bad shit happens, it's the worst possible thing that can happen. When good things happen, your whole world changes and can't possibly get any better." It's all about perspective.
Well, believe me when I tell you, you'll find plenty within this bus-driven tour that takes
multiple twists and turns of mischief.
I have always been the first to admit that I'm not exactly the brightest crayon in the box…in fact, I oddly embrace that. I don't expect to always 'get' everything that someone creates, and I
believe there's always an interpretive element to create art that could very well be beyond me.
Where some folks will get frustrated about that, I find a bizarre level of enjoyment about how
things can escape me; I don't always need to understand every minute detail to enjoy something thoroughly. I felt that way about "Coast Road" as the bus sped along its path through the winding roads of Ireland – it's a mystery, so we're not always supposed to know what's going on, but at times, I was downright lost on this tour. Does that get me down? Heck no! As long as I'm interested, which I was, it simply means that it's usually something well worth watching twice – which I did with "Coast Road." I absolutely loved the ominous way the narration works, and I felt like this whole story was worth telling, even if I might not have been able to quite get everything to add up by the time it was all over.
Ultimately, we all get something different from the things we choose to watch. For me, a lot of the reasons why I enjoyed "Coast Road" as much as I did, weren't born out of understanding it all – it was more of the creepy feeling this journey takes you on. At points, you might not even be sure it's actually supposed to be a mystery – you might feel like it's a comedy of sorts, albeit a dark one – but I felt like that worked to the film's advantage in terms of its versatility. No matter how much you might chuckle or laugh for a moment, it's like there's a black cloud always following the bus.
Beyond all things, I really loved how into it this whole cast was; the dialogue is brilliantly natural, and each member of the cast felt like they treated every line of this movie like they'd genuinely written it themselves. There are pauses; there are moments when some of them search their minds for that next thing to say; there are elements of our genuine humanity on display, which gave this film an astounding fluidity that kept me watching intently. The narration itself was phenomenal and one of my favorite parts of this movie, too – it was the perfect way to tie everything together and add even more detail to this story.
The scenery of Ireland speaks volumes on its own behalf, it's spectacularly beautiful, and you feel like you're lucky enough to be on the bus with the characters onscreen, innocently along for the ride like they are. Or so it would seem anyhow – as the film progresses, the story takes a massive detour into a malevolent twist that will keep you wondering just how random this group actually is or if they were all on the bus for a more tangible purpose that might not be nearly as innocent as many characters realize.
I enjoy movies and films that are largely based on characters and dialogue as their primary vehicle, and that's what you get on this bus ride. Credit to the writers Brian Stynes and Michael O'Dowd – not only did they write a heck of a script, but they also found a fantastic ensemble that brought every word to life, even if death itself played a pivotal plot point along this adventure. Stynes also takes on the directorial role, which I thought he did a great job of, even if it might not be the most demanding film to shoot or be a part of at the end of the day. I think he was blessed by finding the right cast when it comes right down to it – every actor on this set was invested in their character, and as a result, so are we.
All things said and done, "Coast Road" makes sense, and it does get to where it's going – you might not be able to see every twist and turn coming atcha, but that's kind of the way life (and death!) works. Like I was saying, it's a movie that really makes us feel like we're every bit as much along for the ride as the characters onscreen are, and it's because of that, that we all arrive at the final conclusion and destination of the plot together at the same time. I think real mystery lovers will genuinely appreciate that. I'm going with a strong three-star rating for "Coast Road," and I think there's an argument to be made on behalf of it being even stronger for the more savvy minds out there that love a good mystery. There's much more to this
story than meets the eye - that much I can tell you for sure. The storytelling is superb, the characters are excellent in their roles, and the dialogue reigns supreme as "Coast Road" navigates us through a twisted tale that'll keep you guessing - and concerned about your next vacation.
Coast Road Review
Cork City residents hire a bus to take them on a tour of coastal roads,
but when one of the passengers dies, the driver suspects the passengers
of keeping secrets about the dead man. Here is Screen Critix review of
Brian Stynes’ Coast Road.
Opening with some glorious drone shots of the beautiful West Ireland coast,
Coast Road starts promisingly enough, showing us the lush greens and the
blue sea of the Emerald Isle, but this great drone footage from Rory and
Bryan Conlon soon gives way to the much simpler premise of watching passengers
on a bus and their endearing, annoying, and sometimes frightening quirks.
The key to a lot of Irish films, be they comedy or drama, is the art of conversation.
Coast Road is a 67-minute feature-length drama reminiscent of the darker side of
Irish culture. The Irish seem to talk more than other people and they take more joy
and sorrow from it. During Coast Road, there are times when characters have arguments
simply for the sake of talking, and they do not always mind being overheard, mainly
because they love an audience. Two passengers may be silent but add someone they
don’t know at the other end of the bus, and they’ll start talking, putting on a subtle
performance. We will meet a few different people throughout the film’s running time,
and each one will have their moment; some are friends, a few are enemies, while others
are couples going through a rough time, and young kids just trying to grow up quietly.
Coast road is full of subtle performances from its cast, the odious Shane
(played by Paul J Coffey) is a foul-mouthed thug, Muriel is a lonely soul who likes to
gossip with her friends, while Paul Broderick is the stoic bus driver trying to keep his
head while all around people are losing theirs. As he begins to suspect the ulterior
motives of his passengers, his paranoia starts to grow. However, it is Michael Linehan
as Dave who strides across the film; he is an actor of rare talent who, despite his small
stature, has an innate ability to command the screen whenever he is involved. The story is
set in 1996 and is narrated to us in the present day by Killian who was twelve at the time
and the youngest passenger during the events that unfolded.
The cinematography by Philip Connelly provides us with some memorable images, as each time the coach stops we are given some nice mid shots and establishing shots framing our
characters in front of the beautiful and windy Irish environment. However, there is little
he can do within the confines of a bus and, although he does his best to keep the camera
moving, we are left with static shots of passengers talking to each other. The music by
Mark McMillan is also a positive as it adds to the tension and despair felt by the
characters as things begin to get on top of everyone. The only major issue we have with the
film is that it is not particularly gripping.
Overall Coast Road is a nice little film that, with a few extra tweaks of the script, could
have become the bus tour version of Murder On The Orient Express. As it stands, we get some
tight direction from Stynes and some lovely performances from a cast of local Irish actors
who all seem to work very well together.
I.A.C. Film & Video Institute
A fascinating drama highlighting the difficulties experienced by people perceived to be disabled and how they have to work twice as hard as able-bodied people just to prove they can manage. The contrasts between the main character’s ‘home’ life and his training at the gym were very well handled.
On the whole, the film had a good script and generally good acting and showed enormous potential, this film could have some success exploring, as it does, a very difficult and important subject.
Indie Shorts Mag
When the choice is between cowardice and violence, I choose violence! – Mahatma Gandhi’
With these words, Director/Producer Brian Stynes drops a hint at what his movie will bring forth to the audience. Under the purview of his direction, he narrates the story of a man named Jimmy (Michael Linehan) who is disabled but has the might of any able-bodied man or perhaps even more… He takes martial arts classes every week. Jimmy is so engrossed in his lessons and training, that his achievements, although deserving, come at a heavy price.
It’s his aged father with deteriorating mental faculties who pays the brunt of it. Writer Michael Linehan who also happens to be the actor who plays Jimmy brings the soul of the film with nuanced performance and fleshed out characters.
This 17:17 minutes short goes for different textures of camera work. Brian along with Philip Connolly takes the charge for the camera handling. Many of the scenes have been shot with the hand-held camera, the unsteadiness and jerking moments only highlighting the texture of the scene captured. But, this isn’t consistent. There are well captured technical filming that happens in the ‘ring shots’. Using full frame, long shots and medium close-ups, in equal measure, the cinematographer offers the cast in varied lenses, multiple perspectives.
Co-editors Brain and Michael Linehan maintain the pace of the film, without making it seem rushed, which is an achievement in films of this nature. They choose to introduce the title of the movie around 5 minutes into the timeline, giving a fair chance to the characters to establish themselves.
The tonal effects of warm and cool colours enhance the camera work and add an aesthetic quality to the point of the shot. The warm tones used during the shots in the ring and the kitchen provide contrasts to the frame. The major chunk for this work goes to Philip Connolly for colour grading. ‘Whirlpool’ is an emotional upheaval. Its theme is universal. We see Jimmy struggle to balance his life out and deal with the daily difficulties, which perhaps remain alien to a ‘normal’ person; but it is in his tenacity, grit and perseverance that Jimmy proves to be extraordinary.
‘Whirlpool’ is inspiring, motivating and above all, a peek-a-boo into a man’s life who is extraordinary, despite his circumstances.
Short Film Reviews
72 Miles Review
72 miles was the distance young Willie Joe Meally travelled one day back in 1962,
going from his village to watch the all-Ireland hurling final in Dublin.
The childhood adventure was no a big drama, but a nostalgic and revealing look
back at distant past, based on Meally’s memoir.
Some things were very different, but there is also a sense of past and present
flowing together. Even the present-day scenes that top and tail the piece have a
sense of nostalgia, as old Willie – played by the writer himself – looks at fields
once hidden by trees and hedgerows, and recalls his mother’s cooking and the smells
that emerged through the kitchen window. “All windows have their own smell…” he
says poetically. Later, more prosaically, his younger self points out that so too
does the Dublin’s River Liffey.
The filmed recollection conveys a feel of memory, with the film all yellowed from
age, crackled and textured, and with out-of-sync voices. It’s reminiscent of the
recent film Bait. The sequences in Dublin and at the match, make wonderful use of
archive material, edited seamlessly into the narrative. Equally effective is the
reconstruction of home life, the meal cooked in an open pot over a coal fire, the
miner’s lamp, the detail of dad’s accordion.
The focus on old Willie fading ghostlike into the landscape juxtaposes with the
story of Toddy Brennan, who gave the boys the lift into Dublin. One stayed in
Ireland, the other moved to England as part of the Irish diaspora. The film’s
affection for its home can be seen as part of the cultural backlash against the
all-pervading obsession with “urban”. It sits comfortably alongside films like
Bait, The Levelling, and God’s Own Country. Working class is rural too, and has
a multitude of poetic voices.
Penitent Review 8/10
Many of us don’t like to think about the day in which the lights turn off for good.
But heavy must be the heart and mind when we are the ones responsible for turning them off for another,
especially when it is a child. This is the dilemma that saddles our lead in the sobering,
small-budget film Penitent.
We first meet Jason Buckley (Michael Linehan) as he’s being released from prison for this very crime.
The incident was indeed an accident, but trace amounts of drugs from another passenger in the car increased
his penalty for the crime. The situation still haunts him as we hear the various voices of the arrest and
trial echo around his head. Perhaps Jason could have argued for leniency as the drugs were not his, but
maybe he felt as though he deserved his imprisonment.
With his time served, as the film’s title suggests, Jason feels as though he owes more. He sets out to
gain legitimate work and dutifully contribute to society. His path to accomplish this is made all the more
difficult as he dwells in a rather corrupt part of town, filled with pain and poisonous denizens. Jason
remains steadfast in his journey, though, which possibly could include a compassionate ladyfriend. But
given his situation, there are no inevitable conclusions here.
We follow Jason as he manages to scrape together some sense of stability with menial cleaning and repair
jobs in a local office. His efforts are appreciated by his supervisors, which add momentary flickers of
light, but at the end of the day, Jason must return home. Home is where hope hides at the bottom of pints,
needles, and other destructive coping mechanisms. Jason’s meager one-room flat floats in a sea of violence,
addiction, and menace so prevalent that he often sleeps with a knife by his side. Even when he is alone,
he cannot escape the sounds of his past that continue to haunt him.
Making his feature film debut, Dublin-born director Brian Stynes obviously did not have a bloated budget
with which to work. Thankfully he invested in a bleak but stunning script from writer/star Linehan, whose
writing and acting cast a large shadow over Penitent. Stynes revels in the simplicity of the story, never
adding more flourishes than scenes call for and allowing Linehan’s performance to do much of the heavy lifting.
Throughout the film’s hour runtime, we root for him, as Lineham presents us with such a lived-in performance
captured by Stynes’ pragmatic lens. In fact, there is an authenticity that pervades Penitent through its style
and performances that call to mind the social realist style of director Ken Loach. It’s more concerned with
resolutions that feel raw, real, and true than the varnish of big-studio productions.
With Penitent, all involved have crafted a pointed and poignant drama that digs deep for its emotions, and even
though it can show humanity at its lowest points, it keeps its audience engaged and hungry for the conclusion,
whatever path that may be.
As the title suggests, Penitent is a morose story
without a happy ending. Exploring the depths of
guilt, misery, and self-hatred, Director Bryan Stynes’
feature film debut shows a rather dark side of the
Set in Ireland, Penitent tells the story of a man named
Jason (Michael Linehan) who has to live with the
consequences of driving under the influence and
killing a child. He is haunted by the memory of the
traumatic incident and the guilt that consumes his
After being released from jail he attempts to
establish a sense of normalcy but ultimately the
PTSD gets the best of him. With subplots involving
drugs and unwelcomed visits, Penitent is a complex
film that is further convoluted by a non-linear
telling of the story.
Penitent drops its audience right into the narrative
putting in very little effort to clearly explain Jason’
s situation. The audience is left to put the puzzle
together, which works in some cases, but not in this
one. Title cards are sprinkled throughout the film to
give context to many scenes, which feels like a crutch
for an underdeveloped script. Despite having poor
lighting and camera quality, which are typical weakness
es in low-budget films, the film’s most irredeemable
flaw is its lack of story development. In fact, if it
weren’t for this glaring issue, the film would be
With great performances across the board, Penitent
really shines with its choice of actors. Linehan
gives an extremely earnest performance that is
complemented by a number of supporting roles.
Although the plot is confusing, the emotions that
these characters feel are very clear. The fact that
the audience can feel drawn in by the gripping
emotions of the characters while trying to understand
the plot is a remarkable achievement on its own.
Linehan’s performance is a poignant examination of
the human condition.
With serious flaws in some areas and significant
successes in others, its difficult to label Penitent
as good or bad. Nonetheless, it is a nuanced work of
art that shows promising potential for Stynes’ future
Penitent is one of those low budget indie films, that if conditions were slightly different, I would have rated it a four or higher. The pieces were all here. A good story. A good video edit... mostly good anyhow. A perfect running length and an excellent cast portraying these "real"
feeling characters. The casting within the indie film world has surprised me lately. Micro budgeted film no longer feels like a bunch of friends who have never acted... playing parts. Well, maybe I'm being a little generous... so let me just say that "this" film didn't feel that way. I should also point out that I'm not just talking about this films leading man. I'm talking about the supporting cast, straight down to the extras and recurring extras. Everyone shown onscreen felt real. Like they had been real people secretly filmed. So what am I talking about when I write about the conditions of this film? It's the budget. It's the gear. It's
the quality. Had a lot of the shots been steadier, had some true light setups been used... and had a better camera been utilized... this would have been that much better. I understand, and respect, that this was an indie low budget film. However, as a viewer... I don't care. Maybe that's not quite right. I, personally, do care. I completely understand the indie process and the low budget film world. The average Joe however, does not. They either like it... or they don't. They don't care if it's low budget or infused with ten million. I always have to keep that in mind and I've seen many... many... low budget films that "look" so much more expensive. I Know its's possible. Still, "Penitent" shows itself good enough to earn a personal rating that is well above average - in my books. It is true, that getting an average viewer to really give this film a go may prove tough, for the first fifteen or twenty minutes. If they stick around past that point however, they will forget it's a low budget
movie. If "Penitent" can keep them in their seats that long, they'll be hooked. That's the magic of this film. It gets “that” good. So. Whoever comes across this short write-up, and is maybe considering checking out this movie, let me write this: As far as movies go, this is an excellent
entry. Give it a few minutes and let it give you another hour. Just under. Further proof that you don't need a studio budget to tell an interesting and entertaining story. Sometimes it just may just take you a few minutes to adjust... but once you do, you're in for a treat.
A cheeky low budget movie that delivers much more than you'd expect from the package. Hidden within the simple whitewash of the current poster art, is a film of guilt, depression, and the attempt to move on with life after such a tragic accident. We begin this experience with Jason being released from prison. An arrest and prison time resulting from some drugs found within his car after the accident. Although the drugs were not actually his, Jason had to serve the time. Perhaps he felt he deserved to be in jail for what he'd done, and didn't put up as much as a fight as he should have.
This topic is discussed and shown briefly at the start of the film, and one
would figure any competent lawyer could have got him off. So you have
to wonder. No matter. The "beef" of Penitent is just as the name suggests. Penance. What must one do to pay for such a deed. A job? A
life? A contributing member of society? It's so hard to tell when you're
living it. Before the end of the film, Jason finds his penance. Finds what
he must do - and does it. The resulting finale is triumphant and sad, yet
it's the trip to that destination that will keep you occupied. The downs
and occasional ups that make you, the viewer, think things may work out in the end. Maybe, just maybe they do. You'll have to judge if the
payment was enough yourself. It's a trip any lovers of a good drama will
enjoy. It's a trip that may just leave you speechless or angry. It's a trip
that will keep most of you watching your screens.
Penitent is a well acted film. I can't recall any hollow or corny deliveries
off hand. These guys may not be A listers but at times, you may think
they were. The production elements, as far as low budget film goes, all
seem to fit nicely into place. The visuals do the trick and so does the
audio. Of course, you can tell this is an independent production. Almost
right off the bat. You can also tell it's a good one. Penitent may not have
had the three hundred thousand dollar camera rig, but they had the
hearts of lions and managed to pull off a completely watchable film.
With indie productions, it's not always about the expensive setups or
brand name actors. Sometimes it's about the story, how to tell the story
and the ability to make "indie" work for a film. Instead of against it. The
true grit and washed out feel of Penitence perfectly fits the somber
concept of the movie. Perfectly.
Short Film Reviews
Jimmy’s a little guy, with a slight hump-back that gets stares. But he’s got energy to spare, which he burns off with martial arts and training runs. He pops in on his old dad, but not enough. Dad has a home help, Tim, a who visits regularly. But Jimmy begins to suspect that Tim bullies his dad when he’s not there. He goes to Tim’s manager, only to be brushed off. “You’re not getting me,” he says. “I am getting you.” “Then you don’t give a shit.”
You get the sense that Jim himself has been bullied or ignored his whole life… but maybe that’s an excuse for not taking responsibility. The slowly developing tension is all about whether the ball of pent-up anger inside Jim is finally going to explode, and what might happen if it does. Because karate and boxing or no, Jim’s still a little guy, as one beautifully judged scene in the ring makes very clear.
Michael Linehan plays Jimmy superbly. There’s no trace of showing off, even with the sharp kick-boxing routines he does alone in the corner of the gym. There are more minor characters than most short films, all supporting Linehan perfectly, even down to the extras in the gym with their ever-so-slightly patronising looks towards Jimmy.
Linehan wrote the piece too, and Brian Stymes’ direction, camerawork and editing match Jimmy’s coiled spring. It’s an exemplar of gritty realism that never spills over into melodrama or cliché.
The jerky hand-held camera is overused, to my mind – it’s fine in the gym, but not so necessary in the supermarket. But aside from this admittedly subjective quibble, there’s little to criticise about this very affecting film.
Jimmy is a memorable character. If any rich investor/producers are listening, hear this: he deserves a feature.