Michael Inside
4.0Overall Score

Michael Inside (Ireland / 15A / 96 mins)

In short: A stand-out

Directed by Frank Berry. Starring Dafhyd Flynn, Lalor Roddy, Moe Dunford.

The Plot: 18-year-old Dubliner Michael (Dafhyd Flynn) has had a rough life, but he’s soldiered on. His mother died of a drugs overdose and his father is in the slammer. He lives with his protective grandfather Francis (Lalor Roddy). The temptation to engage in crime with his mates is there, but he skirts dangerously along the edges. The Gardai turn up at the house one day and discover a bag of cocaine that Michael was to hold for a mate’s brother. With a promising future ahead, Michael has to face the hard truth that he’s going to serve jail time for three months. Anxious and scared, he’s taken under the wing of older prisoner David (Moe Dunford), a man who can protect him – but at a cost…

The Verdict: Winner of Best Irish Feature at last year’s Galway Film Fleadh, Michael Inside shows a growing maturity and understanding of both character and environment from Dublin writer / director Frank Berry. His previous film, I Used To Live Here, hinted at that but it’s come to full fruition here. It’s a film that grabs you from the get-go with its emotive story, while keeping level-headed about its characters and where they find themselves.

Michael’s story developed from Berry’s interaction with former prisoners as part of a post-release programme. They had expressed a wish to go back and talk to their younger selves. That’s something you can see possibly happening to Michael, as he falls into one trap and another, pushing himself deeper into trouble while on the inside. Some of that comes out of necessity, some of that comes from personal choice. The consequences weigh heavily on his mind throughout – he’s a quiet, internalised young man who thinks first and then acts later. As Francis tells him at one point, he’s not young anymore and needs to accept what’s happening.

Berry skilfully balances the three-act structure of a film to show three different developments in Michael’s character, so it comes across as honest and truthful. Those early scenes of Michael preparing for what’s ahead are so well acted by Flynn that it carries him through the rest of the film and its more challenging elements. He’s able to convey so much by saying so little, internalising the guilt, shame, anger and fear of Michael’s situation. He’s well supported by the excellent Dunford, whose character could hug Michael or kill him depending on his mood. There’s something perceptive about David though. He tells Michael that the real sentence begins when you’re on the outside, when you have a criminal conviction and a tarnished name.

Berry is honest about where Michael is heading, asking the audience to accept him as a flawed character who could live a promising life or a troubled life. It all depends on the choices he makes. Berry also eschews prison movie cliches and instead focuses on the psychological impact of it all on a young, remorseful mind. It’s not easy to keep a character like that sympathetic to the audience, but through a combination of excellent writing, directing and acting, Michael Inside is a stand-out Irish film with a clear statement to make. Seek it out.

Rating: 4 / 5

Review by Gareth O’Connor