Irish cinema deserves a chance. But often we see extremely positive reviews promising the moon. What happens next is: viewers come out of the movie either slightly or greatly disappointed. Let’s just settle this upfront: a four to five star movie is technically acceptable, has decent acting and a well-plotted story. This is the bare minimum. If any of those elements fails, the others have to be outstanding for a film to remain in the ‘very good’ category.
Just a few weeks ago, Niall Heery´s Gold received four stars in The Irish Times. Heery’s second production (after Small Engine Repair, 2006) is fine; but the script is not accomplished enough to be worthy of a very good review. The funny fact is that even that positive review points out “there’s not a great deal of plot to the piece”. The reviewer had a job to do, and this wasn't to be too kind.
Going back a few years, let’s take The Runway, (Ian Power, 2011). Film Ireland paired it with The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011): “between this and The Guard, it looks like 2011 will be a great year for Irish cinema”. The Runway didn’t accomplish any of The Guard’s success in the box office. Even in this review, there are remarks about certain flaws in the script. The Runway was a breath of fresh air but again a solid three stars movie, nothing more. It's understandable a small industry invites self-censoring on the part of critics, but this shouldn't translate into back patting.
It’s been seven years since John Carney’s Once hit Irish cinemas. Carney’s first feature film was considered “an unexpected treasure” by RTÉ within weeks of its release. The Irish Times also gave it a four star rating calling it "irresistibly appealing". Is Once an enjoyable and original approach to the musical genre? Yes, definitely. But Carney’s musical featured two lead actors outside their comfort zone while not playing music, which is not completely ignored in RTÉ’s review: “Once has wonderfully natural performances from the two leads. Although musicians first and actors second”. Once presents some continuity and technical goofs, one of the obvious ones is the drummer looking into the camera in the studio scene. Carney’s film gained the 'very good' classification with an okay story, acceptable acting and being technically sufficient, which shouldn’t have elevated it to the altars of the four and five stars.
We have mentioned three enjoyable movies, and certainly small victories within an industry that doesn’t produce twenty feature films every year as per the information available Irish Film Board website. Picking out names of media giving away an extra star, ‘the Irish star’ may not be seen as constructive criticism. But, it needs to be said, a non-reliable review makes the audience jaded about local cinema and it doesn’t allow for honest feedback to reach the creators.
Partly because of extremely positive reviews, the audience doesn’t consider Irish productions a safe choice; let’s not forget going to the movies may be a once a month occasion for an average family. Over appreciation discredits the critic, but never mind that, the movie industry is the one that suffers the most. Balanced criticism is the only valid path for Irish cinema to win a place in the entertainment market, and to gain back the trust of its audience.