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  • Writer's pictureJamie

Kneecap - Review

Kneecap is loud, it's a film that feels like it's screaming at you for basically its entire runtime. It keeps up an energy that weirdly never feels like too much, while not missing out on the character development and story progression, just sneaking in some darker themes and complex relationships over a soundtrack of galloping beats and lyrics that would make any Irish speaking local perish on the spot. 

Kneecap does what the Irish government never could do, make the Irish language sound cool and make people want to learn it. One track from the Irish language speaking trio and I was ready to drop English all together and painfully string sentences together with my abysmal grasp on the language.

The story is not one that they claim is based on true events, but the fictionalised origin story of Kneecap is so entertaining from second one of the film to the end, that it could not matter less what is true and what’s not. 

We’re introduced to Móglaí Bap (Naoise Ó Cairealláin) and Mo Chara (Liam Óg Ó Hannaidh) who narrate the intro, letting us know that it's not going to be a typical film about Belfast where The Troubles take a centre stage, instead, it's about today’s Belfast, which is still recovering from these time, as they reference the term “ceasefire babies”. Their generation is living in the aftermath of this conflict, with so much of the tension still lingering in the air. This is only exacerbated by Mo Chara’s connection to the times through his dad, Arló Ó Cairealláin (Michael Fassbender), a freedom fighter who has evaded jail time through faking his death. The boys are watched by the police throughout by having this connection, giving them an inherent conflict with the police regardless of their other illegal activities. 

This film has some heavy drug use in it, with every drug under the sun getting its moment to shine, and being the main catalyst for their relationship with Dj Próvai (JJ Ó Dochartaigh) as he finds the group in an unlikely Irish translator event. Próvai is a music teacher, and finds inspiration when he sees that the boys have written lyrics blending the Irish language with English in a really interesting way. He works with them to create music and once this music is out there, the band’s brash and unwavering dedication to the Irish language, along with their promotion of drug use, gets them in some situations, complicating their rise to popularity. 

Kneecap does all this with its story, balancing the dark and light, all with first time film actors and makes every element look effortless. 

The acting from the band is so impressively in depth and is played with such an understanding that it feels obvious why people gravitate towards this band in real life. They have an ease in their chemistry and a connection that allows them to play like this, where we don’t need inner band conflict to make the story engaging. 

This is helped by some really excellent performances around the main cast, with the likes of Simone Kirby, Jessica Reynolds and Josie Walker being personal standouts to me. They have so much to do in the little time they’re given and use every single second of it to develop their character or push along the story. 

The visuals and styling of the film are very in your face, with scrawled writing on the screen, narration and quick cuts between scenes and flashbacks. This is all balanced with a score keeping the pace perfectly, in between the songs from Kneecap themselves.

While the style is very strong, I think it is the only area of the film I wasn’t 100% in on. I think some elements are important to the story, like showing the lyrics as they are, notes in a notepad and coming onto the screen in every which place, like they’re just flowing out. I personally just found some of the setups to lessen the impact of some scenes, not quite selling me on some of the emotion, in sacrifice of the style. 

Overall though, I think Kneecap is a generational Irish film, being the second Irish language film that I have had the pleasure to see, contrasting that one (The Quiet Girl) very much, showcasing the diversity of filmmakers in Ireland working today, knowing what kind of stories that they’re looking to tell. Rich Peppiatt’s narrative feature debut shows so much potential for someone with a strong vision and care for this work, that I’m excited to see in the future. 


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