By Joel Kalkopf
20th November 2020

Sometimes when watching a film, it's not what happens on screen between characters that leaves the largest impact, but rather everything that happens in the spaces in between. This is certainly the case in Peter Mackie Burns' ('Daphne') latest film, 'Rialto'.

Taking course over five days and set in Dublin, 'Rialto' follows Colm (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, 'Avengers: Infinity War'), a manager at the docks whose life has been spiralling out of control since his father passed away a month prior. Colm has a comfortable life, at least on the surface level, with a wife, two children and a stable job - yet he seeks comfort in the most unexpected of places, engaging in a transactional affair with Jay, a young man no older than his son. The death of his father has propelled his life into turmoil, and whilst the solace he seeks may be deeply flawed, the magnitude of his newly-found safe space is no less effective.

Loosely based off his stage play 'Trade', Mark O'Halloran ('Adam & Paul') crafts a seemingly standard mid-life crisis film, hitting all the notes and tones one can expect from the genre. However, as a writer and with a limited screen time, O'Halloran is able to build a character study that doesn't solely rely on those standard beats. He gives his characters little moments throughout the film that mould their personalities - and what's more, he manages to create integral spaces that don't rush or force an atmosphere but lend itself to one. Elements such as backstories, motivations and raw emotions are never harpooned into conversations, but they breathe and grow with the characters, particularly Colm, who are allowed their moments.


As strong as the script is, none of it would be possible if the acting on screen wasn't first-class. Vaughan-Lawlor is exceptional as Colm, displaying a conviction to his moral failures, anguish and grief with a helplessness that only a broken man could display. Likewise, his on-screen partner Tom Glynn-Carney ('Dunkirk') as Jay, brings an intimidating yet vulnerable nature to his "work". The unsettling nature of their relationship, which is much more complex than simply a homosexual affair, is laid bare for the audience to witness and dissect.

Colm as a character is complex. He is impotent in every sense of the word, swallowed up by a depression that reaches climactic proportions. He can't articulate what he's feeling, most notably to his loving wife (Monica Dolan), who wants so badly to be there for him if he'd only let her in. Colm is unable to see her admiration for him, and the audience feels how difficult it is to love someone who feels this lost. The solace Colm finds in Jay makes him believe he might even be in love, allowing himself to believe it simply because he can talk to Jay amidst his loss of identity.

The direction from Mackie Burns is understated, yet a visual delight. He brings in horror-like scores which work so well in tandem with the script, with the audience feeling something brewing and that Colm's life is just off-kilter. Whether purposeful or not is irrelevant, but he positions his characters against yellows which only raise the tension, although Colm is almost always found in blue. When he's not, there will always be something on screen in blue, a colour of isolation and sadness. It's cleverly crafted to never be in your face, but always playing so well in the space of the film.

O'Halloran is able to build a character study that doesn't solely rely on those standard beats. He gives his characters little moments throughout the film that mould their personalities.

At its core, amidst the sex and depression, 'Rialto' is all about the relationship between a father and son. Its Colm's father's passing that ignites the turmoil, and his refusal to grieve for a man he hated that continues to suffocate him. Those shadows of his past will haunt him as he begins to question himself, to the point of spilling over and destroying his relationship with his own son. He pushes him away in an attempt to avoid the same mistakes, but try as he might, 'Rialto' shows that whatever demons your hold in your closet, they will inevitably swallow you up. Colm may not want to be like his father, but the path he has walked - whether chosen or not - exacerbates that cyclical outcome.

'Rialto' as an exploration of a mid-life crisis is not much different from the countless others in that genre: a middle-aged white man loses his job and alienates his family by wallowing in grief. However, if you approach this film as a raw and emotional character study, as it encourages you to do, you will find yourself caught in the meditative nature of the film. Highlighted by the fittingly inconclusive ending, much like the father and son relationships depicted, there is a haunting inevitability to the loop that will leave audiences sympathetic, and almost definitely sad.

Strong acting, purposeful directing and confident screenwriting, 'Rialto' on paper should be a stock-standard film, but proves to be able to rise above the occasion.

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