Eoin C. Macken’s solid picture Here Are The Young Men shines a light on toxic masculinity without ever giving itself the chance to go fully in-depth as its characters deserve. With an astonishingly good performance from Finn Cole, this feels more like a case of what could have been.
Dublin 2003. Aimless teenager Matthew (Dean Charles Chapman) and his disaffected friends leave school into a social vacuum of drink, drugs and thrill-seeking in one last Summer of adolescence. Matthew romantically yearns after his free-spirited friend Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy) and struggles to maintain his increasingly problematic relationship with the magnetic but sadistic Kearney (Finn Cole). Whilst their precocious friend Rez (Walsh Peelo) has started to succumb to paranoia and depression. Matthew and the group are soon led by the deranged Kearney into a world of nihilistic violence, falling into shocking acts of transgression that will irrevocably change their lives.
The opening of Here Are The Young Men leads you firmly astray as to what you think you may be about to watch. With our tragic trio wandering through Dublin drinking, taking drugs and generally having a lark as they wreck their former school’s property. Yet, as we watch them right up until that awful moment that changes their lives, they reasonably carefree and living life how they want to. Once that accident happens, however, their worlds are changed forever as they begin to feel the impending importance of their future, one that a small child will never have. How they go forward with their lives is what drives the plot.
Disillusionment is key to Here Are The Young Men; we have three young men who are totally aimless before the accident and even more so afterwards. Matthew doesn’t quite know what to do with himself but has the options to start a job; Rez seems to be just flowing along, though a dark heaviness resides within him. It is Kearney who the audience is most concerned for and about, though.
He was already expelled from school and has a father with who he cannot connect; even when he tries to tell him of the accident, it is brushed aside for TV time. Without that central figure in his life, he is lost already as he ventures down a path that he cannot come back from as his mental state takes a continual turn for the worse. He is the atypical masculine character, full of wide eyes, aggression, uncaring and misogynistic; he is the epitome of the friend from the area your parents tell you not to hang around with.
The Big Show (an unsubtle rip on The Late Late Show) is the weakest aspect of the film, even with its star name talent on the screen as Travis Fimmel seemingly has a whale of a time being the devil on the shoulder to Kearney’s subconscious. The lack of subtlety to this reoccurring show causes the film to lose almost all of its traction with the audience. Just as we get into the grove with these characters and their world, we are thrown back into the show as the same characters have their minds warped and prodded. It is needless and removes all authenticity the film has to its characters. When the film should focus on its three characters’ ever-distancing dynamic, we are removed from it, which is such a shame.
Chapman and Cole drive the film and are key to it being as good as it turns out to be. They have wonderful chemistry, and even if the conclusion to their story doesn’t ring true to what their characters would actually do, the young actors do well. Cole, without a doubt, is the standout here, bringing everything he has to the quite complicated Kearney. A character who has seemingly always been missing that love or arm around the shoulder to reel him in and stop his destructive tendencies. When Here Are The Young Men focuses on these characters, it shines; we see a great tale of what happens when the youth (even 2003 youth of which I can relate to) are left on their own to figure their lives out. Even the most mature character in Taylor-Joy’s Jen has her struggles.
Macken does some great work with his direction as he weaves a slick and interesting tale. Even with those distracting The Big Show scenes, he can keep the story on the tracks enough not to lose his audience. His confidence in his young cast allows them to feel grounded in their performances which makes Cole’s performance as Kearney all the more heartbreaking. However, by sacrificing more time with the group of characters and more into their psyche in a grounded manner, we lose far too much from Here Are The Young Men to make this a must-watch.
In the end, we have a stylish film with some strong central performances that keeps the audience with it despite the constant veering off into the needlessly surreal—a true missed opportunity of cementing an important message.
Signature Entertainment presents Here are the Young Men on Digital Platforms 30th April.
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