Directed by Aoife Crehan. Starring Michiel Huisman, Niamh Algar, Samuel Bottomley, Colm Meaney, Brian Cox, Micahel McElhatton, Jim Norton.
The Plot: Daniel (Michael Huisman) has lived away from his family in New York. When his mother back in the ‘aul country dies, he takes a flight home. Padraig (Jim Norton), the man in the seat beside him, is also travelling home to mark the death of a relative. However, Padraig dies inflight but names Daniel as his next of kin. Faced with the responsibility of handling a stranger’s final resting place, he sets out on the road from Clonakilty, Cork to Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland with Padraig’s remains in an environmentally-friendly coffin. Along for the ride are his autistic brother Louis (Sam Bottomley) and sharp-tongued mortician Mary (Niamh Algar). However, Garda Detective Crowley (Colm Meaney) is in pursuit as Daniel has defied local law, prompting a potential international incident…
The Verdict: The tried-and-tested road movie formula gets a distinctly Irish spin in the gentle festive comedy drama The Last Right. By their very nature, road movies are more about the journey than the final destination. They also involve character arcs that show change and improvement in how disparate characters interact by the end of the journey. The Last Right plays to that formula but with its own very Irish sense of humour in how to deal with death. Death is something on the minds of the characters here. Not just reacting and mourning, but also doing right by a stranger and fulfilling his last wishes to bring him to his proper resting place.
First-time feature writer/director Aoife Crehan was inspired by hearing such stories of the kindness of strangers and how geographical boundaries are not enough to keep people apart from their sudden responsibilities to another human being. Her engaging script is structured around the triangular relationship between Daniel, Louis and Mary as they bicker and argue for Ireland as they make their way across the length of the country to the windswept Antrim coast. The strength of her writing is in the way these flawed characters come to realise that what matters most is right in front of them, not in another place.
Mary in particular is a character who could have been the quirky passenger who comes up with occasional zingers to irritate the other two. Thanks to Crehan’s focused writing and direction and a warm performance from Algar (Screen Daily’s 2018 Star Of Tomorrow), she’s a more rounded character who contributes to driving the plot forward. The attraction between Daniel and Mary is too obvious from the beginning, so that it becomes a predictable element rather than a gradual plot development. It’s a minor weakness that could be attributed to Crehan’s inexperience in dealing with features rather than short films.
On the strength of this debut though, Crehan has plenty of time to iron out those character kinks when it comes to her next feature. One would hope that she continues writing and directing, as she shows a keen eye for her environment, working well with actors including old reliables Colm Meaney and Brian Cox and knows when to inject the right amount of Irish humour to balance out the more weighty themes. This is especially so when the film’s most unassuming character, a young Garda trainee, delivers the most perceptive line. It’s a film of surprises and is gently life-affirming, with a seasonal message that rings true. The Last Right is right on.