John has had a tough life. As a small child he watched his mother be constantly battered by his drunken father. When John’s dad finally abandoned the family, he left them close to penniless. So while John tries to mentor his small brother Stephen, he also watches his mother try to keep the family afloat. And while John is basically a good person, he has lingering anger issues that sometimes surface when he’s under stress.
One day John runs into the local trio of punks while he and his girlfriend are coming back from a stroll. They attack him and beat him mercilessly, leaving him bruised and sore. Worse, one of the punks has now stolen John’s girlfriend, Shauna. Pushed to the brink, John first yells at Stephen and then curses his mother, becoming verbally abusive to her until she retorts, "You remind me of him." Angry with the way his life has turned out, John grabs a utility knife and searches for the punk that stole his girlfriend. When he finds them, he confronts them, throwing the punk to the ground and waving the knife at both Shauna as well as his mortal enemy lying on the ground. The situation has escalated to the tipping point and John begins to recall bits of conversation from earlier in the week: his promise to his little brother that he will never be like their father; his mother’s accusation of being just like his father. So now John has a decision to make. Does he let his anger–the anger he had to suffer through by his own father–get the best of him, or does he choose to become a better man?
I won’t give away the ending but leave it as a surprise to the viewer, but writer/producer/director James Mulholland has crafted a sensitive and touching 20-minute short that addresses the cyclical nature of abuse. While it isn’t clear whether John’s father ever hit John, it is no less traumatic for a small child to watch beatings of their loved ones night after night. In one poignant scene, John describes a particularly brutal beating his father gave his mother. He describes his feeling of helplessness, branded into his memory, as his mother pleads for young John to help her. But small and powerless himself, John can only stand and watch the violence unfold, too afraid of his father to try to help his mother. Even though many years have passed, John is still haunted by the memory of the beating and his guilt for not trying to help his mother.
Matthew Kelly is superb as John. He seems genuinely caring and gentle in the opening scenes, but can be downright scary when he explodes in anger. Kelly is particularly good in the scene when he describes the traumatic events of his childhood to his girlfriend. Lydia Mullanny is also very good as John’s manipulative and shallow girlfriend, Shauna. Her facial expressions as she manipulates John are so good that no words are needed to convey exactly what she is thinking. It makes the viewer literally want to reach into the screen to strangle her and to shake John and make him realize what this cheap tramp is doing to him. The supporting cast is also excellent, including Finn Connolly as Stephen, Sharon Skerrit as John’s mother, and Warren Mahon as the punk Gavin.
The cinematography is very nice and Mulholland really captures that cold, brooding atmosphere for which winter in Ireland is famous. The chilly grey skies mirror John’s emotions and helps to create tension for the viewer. Likewise, Darius McGann’s musical score is superb and really helps to create the right mood for the film.
My Father’s Son has been chosen for several festival showings and has now been released on YouTube. To watch this excellent dramatic piece, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-gTT6l_eRM.