8.5 Hours

8.5 Hours

***

Reviewed by: James Gracey

Set in 2007 at the tail end of the Celtic Tiger boom, director Brian Lally’s contemporary melodrama sets out to explore how the economic upsurge and its subsequent aftermath would affect the lives of ordinary people living and working in Dublin.

Ambitious Rachel (Lynette Callaghen) has been chucked by her boyfriend and must come up with 10 grand by close of day or kiss goodbye to her dream of an exclusive apartment in a sought-after area. Eoin (Victor Burke) is having doubts about his forthcoming marriage to Lisa (Clodagh Reid), not only because she’s determined to make it a highly extravagant occasion, but also because he thinks he might be gay. Quietly spoken Frank (Art Kearns) is also in the middle of matrimonial strife for reasons that have yet to become clear, while materialistic love-rat Tony’s (Jonathan Byrne) past comes back to haunt him in the guise of a mysterious older woman with a secret agenda. Fragmented flashbacks flesh out the back stories, revealing how the principle characters ended up in the dire situations they find themselves in.

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From the outset it is clear that 8.5 Hours is a rather damning indictment of Celtic Tiger Ireland, particularly Dublin. This is worked into the dialogue with gusto as often as possible, resulting in several awkward moments that feel rather forced – the concept is much more effective when left to simmer as subtext. It is also at times a rather uneven movie and seems uncertain of the point it strives so earnestly to make. It simultaneously takes pot shots at contemporary Irish culture in all its secular glory; bemoaning how we’ve lost sight of our religious and moral values, and then goes on to criticise that very aspect of Irish culture through the old-fashioned fire and brimstone character of Maggie (Geraldine Plunkett).

The film is strongest in its exploration of the various characters' predicaments, their motivations and the repercussions of their actions, with a backdrop of inevitable economic freefall ever-present. The uniformly competent cast provide strong performances throughout, particularly Callaghen as the desperate and conniving Rachel.

Despite the ultra-low budget, the drama unfolds in a surprising number of locations throughout Dublin, resulting in a sprawling, strangely epic feel to the tale. The various shots of the cityscape towards dusk are evocative and lend proceedings a modern, edgy tone.

Lally must be given credit for his singular vision – his story unfurls in the throes of dark melodrama and with every revelation, proceedings become increasingly grim, constantly upping the ante. The impact of the unrelenting bleakness is lessened however by a ludicrous, horror-tinged sub-plot involving the contents of a mysterious package and a will, which reaches its conclusion towards the downbeat denouement. While most of the characters are overwhelmingly unsympathetic, it is still easy to see how Lally is attempting to demonstrate how ‘ordinary’ people would react in extreme circumstances such as these if they were pushed. Blackmail, drug abuse, webs of lies and physical violence are but a few of the desperate measures taken in 8.5 Hours.

Intense, gruelling and disarmingly dark contemporary Irish drama.

Reviewed on: 29 Jul 2010
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An eventful day throws the lives of four employees of a successful Dublin-based computer programming company into chaos.
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