THE DRUMMER AND THE KEEPER (Ireland/15A/94 mins)
Directed by Nick Kelly. Starring Dermot Murphy, Jacob McCarthy, Charlie Kelly, Peter Coonan.
THE PLOT: We first meet the troubled Gabriel (Dermot Murphy) as he burns a sofa. He’s not having a good day. He’s a drummer who is a bit different – he has bipolar disorder, leading to wild mood swings and erratic behaviour. His band mates Pearse (Charlie Kelly), Toss (Peter Coonan) and his concerned sister organise an intervention. Gabriel is sent to play soccer at a home for gifted young people and to put his energy to a useful purpose. It’s here that he meets and annoys the sensitive Christopher (Jacob McCarthy). Christopher is different too – he has Asperger’s Syndrome, which means that he’s lacking in social skills and has difficulty understanding other people’s behaviour. Despite Gabriel’s indifferent attitude towards Christopher, the two become friends. They need each other more than they know…
THE VERDICT: ‘The Drummer And The Keeper’ is an impressive, quietly assured feature debut for writer / director Nick Kelly. Anyone who saw his 2010 short film ‘Shoe’ will remember the simple humanity of its message, that of holding on to hope when your life is on the rocks. There’s a similar aspect to his debut here, in that we have two characters who are initially poles apart but find common ground and an urgent need to connect with each other on a human level. How these two very different characters became such close friends is the heart of this involving, well-made film.
Kelly’s script is honest about its two lead characters and where they’re at in their lives. Gabriel needs direction and purpose, Christopher needs independence and understanding. Both of them have parental issues that trouble them, but don’t define their behaviour. Gabriel is quite cruel to Christopher at times, but a grudging respect develops nonetheless. Christopher takes his friendships seriously, even if Gabriel doesn’t. Kelly also takes a non-judgmental approach to their behaviour. Like another fine Irish film recently, Sanctuary, the film is keen to stress the humour and warmth of these characters, whatever their disorders. Nobody’s perfect after all.
The performances are so good here that one hopes that the Irish Film And Television Academy will remember them come next year. Murphy and McCarthy do small wonders with their characters, never betraying the truth of their behaviour or their ambitions. Murphy is given a meatier role here than in the forgettable Black Ice, while newcomer McCarthy has a touch of a young Ethan Hawke about him. They play off each other well, to the point where the acting disappears and they just are the characters. Kelly’s sterling direction is a key factor here in teasing out these performances. ‘The Drummer And The Keeper’ is a lovely character piece built around an unlikely friendship. It’s a keeper for sure and a sign that modern Irish cinema is as strong as ever.
RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor

  • emerb

    You will probably not have heard of Irish former musician and commercials director Nick Kelly before but he impresses with his debut film, “The Drummer And The Keeper”, a comedy/drama which focusses on the relationship between two unlikely characters from Dublin who both suffer from a mental illness. One is a bipolar drummer in a rock band and the other an 18 year old boy who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and has been institutionalised. This all sounds like very heavy material but Kelly handles the subject very well and it turns out to be
    a gentle, warm hearted movie which I found both engaging and enjoyable.

    “The Drummer”, Gabriel (Dermot Murphy) is a 24 year old bipolar drummer living in Dublin. We first meet him setting fire to a car with no trousers on – he also suffers from serious psychotic tendencies. We later learn that his mother’s suicide affected him deeply and this is the root of much of his problems. His only family is his sister Alice (Aoibhinn McGinnity) who is worried that he is spiralling
    out of control and is at a loss as to how to help. His main interest is his rocker mates Pearse and Toss (Charlie Kelly and Peter Coonan) but they don’t really care much about his mental well-being, they are impatient with his behaviour and just want the band to do well. As part of his treatment, Gabriel takes up football with a local mixed ability group and there he meets “The Keeper”, Christopher (Jacob McCarthy), a 17-year-old with Asperger’s whose mother and step-father have opted to place him into a private institution rather than keep him at home. Things between them don’t get off to a great start but slowly a warm friendship devleops with Christopher is showing up at Gabriel’s band’s gigs and Gabriel visiting his home for his birthday. Problems emerge due to the medication which Gabriel is forced to take. While it improves his social behaviour, it is harmful to
    his talent on the drums. Realising that he might lose his place on the band, he makes the decision to stop his medication with disastrous consequences…..

    Mental health issues are a subject that is to the forefront of the media of late and it’s great to see the subject approached in an open yet sensitive and compassionate manner as is evident in this movie. It is not an easy thing to do but more films like this need to be made and kudos to Kelly for giving us not only an entertaining but also a charming, humorous and uplifting piece. It certainly
    helps that the two main characters give superb performances. Their friendship
    feels believable and you find yourself rooting for it to work out in the long term. Relative newcomer Dermot Murphy makes a remarkably good debut as the headstrong drummer with psychotic tendencies but who can just as easily retreat into quieter moments. However, it was the performance from Jacob McCarthy that blew me away, definitely one to watch. The supporting characters don’t have much to do and we learn nothing about them but perhaps that is done on purpose, so as not to distract from the focal friendship at the core of the movie. The soundtrack was apt and well chosen, lifting the tone of the film in all the right places. For the many people affected by similar circumstances, I think this film will ring true. “The Drummer And The Keeper” is a moving and impressive film, it ought to do well and certainly deserves to be seen.