MOVIE REVIEW: The Young Offenders



Official selection and closing film of the third annual Irish American Movie Hooley


You know you’re in for a good time in The Young Offenders when the Irish accents are so thick that they have to give you subtitles in English... of English.  Director Peter Foott, in his debut feature after working in TV, introduces these accents and the characters of Conor MacSweeney and Jock Murphy in an opening scene conversation reminiscent of a quieter moment in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting.  Overlooking the bubble of their closed circle of Cork, our two young protagonists are a pair of fifteen-year-old boys contemplating with befuddlement and exaggeration what they would spend a million Euro on.  

It’s a conversation plenty of kids have had, no matter the country or currency.  The answers you get, which include the “four fathers” of Ireland rather than the “fore fathers,” are telling to the kinds of ridiculous things Conor and Jock will think, say, and do for the next 80-odd minutes.  If you’re chuckling at that opening scene, you’ll be chuckling more.  If you’re shaking your head, you’ll be doing more of that too.  All will carry a smile.   

Wearing nearly-matching track pants and gold chains to glam up their slight frames and pubescent mustaches in 2007, Conor and Jock gravitate to each as best friends because they are both hard-set kids of single parents from crappy and abusive homes.  Conor, played by Alex Murphy, is the tentative and dim-witted one of the pair, a fact his tough love mother (TV actress Hilary Rose) never lets him forget at seemingly every waking moment.  Jock, played by Chris Walley, is the brazen bad influence.  He uses a rubber mask made to look like a local bully Billy Murphy (Shane Casey) to pull off a ring of bike thefts as “Fake Bully” that incites the attention of an over-vigilant Sgt. Healy (Dominic MacHale) from the local police.

Borrowing a page from true 2007 history of Ireland’s largest cocaine seizure, Jock watches the news story of 61 bales of cocaine worth over 440 million Euro washing up on nearby shores and gets the idea of finding one and selling it to turn those millionaire dreams into reality.  He talks Conor into playing hooky and joining him on the 160-kilometer bike trip.  Destiny hits more like silly karma on this fool’s quest that has Sgt. Healy squarely on their tails along the way.  

Either way, saying hijinks ensue is an understatement in this romp of a comedy.  The revelation of this film isn’t the pseudo-criminal horseplay, which goes more than a little off the rails in the zany department by the climax.  It’s the wild relationship between Conor and Jock.  

The banter and B.S. traded back and forth between Alex Murphy and Chris Walley is as hysterical as it is pleasurably uncouth.  It’s an absolute wonder to realize that The Young Offenders is mutually their first on-camera film roles.  Alex and Chris’s chemistry through sarcasm and shared shenanigans feels and looks effortless.  Flabbergasted energy blasts out of both of them and it’s a hoot to watch.  Seeing the two young actors operate these over-the-top losers with reckless abandon while still injecting a little coming-of-age heart for good measure, makes the film highly entertaining.

LESSON #1: THE URBAN DICTIONARY DEFINITION OF “KNACKER”-- The physical and behavioral descriptions found for this term in the Urban Dictionary match our two knuckleheads perfectly.  If the shoe fits, pun intended, wear it.

LESSON #2: THE YOUNG OFFENDER LAWS IN IRELAND-- Jock shortsightedly references the loopholes and loose descriptions of his country’s Children’s Act of 2001, where, as he reads it, “children” cannot be charged with or punished for an adult crime.  He misses the factual existence of Children’s Detention Campuses, which might as well be prisons, but, hey, he’s going with it.

LESSON #3: FIND A “DO ANYTHING FOR YOU” KIND OF FRIEND-- Conor and Jock maybe be plenty demonstrably stupid and hurtful to plenty of things, including each other, but even a few bumps can’t break their mutual loyalty.  Simply put, they are each other’s outlet to weathering and navigating the world because they share many of the same struggles.  Having a friend like that is priceless compared to any rich man dreams.