It could be a sign of aging on my part, but I seem to have lost my patience for films about young people running around causing general mayhem and screwing up their own lives in the process, especially when the behavior in question isn’t so much an act of rebellion but more an act of destruction—usually of property and self. That being said, director Eoin Macken’s Here Are the Young Men is so full of talented young actors, at least the drinking, drugs and transgression on display is somewhat interesting if not particularly informative about the anarchic minds of a particular generation.
The film centers on Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman, the younger soldier from 1917), who is released from what appears to be a reform school in Dublin and immediately meets up with his two mates, the borderline sociopath Kearney (Finn Cole, “Peaky Blinders”) and perpetually moody Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, the lead in Sing Street), after which they immediately trash the car of the school’s headmaster. We’re meant to see Matthew as the one who might not be beyond saving, who has something of a brain left in his head and a sensitivity that the other two are incapable of possessing. He’s even the one with the best chance at a romantic relationship, which seems to be forming with his childhood best friend Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy), who takes no crap from Matthew or his crew but dishes out plenty to keep them in line.
Based on the novel by Rob Doyle (adapted by the director), the specifics of Here Are the Young Men are almost inconsequential because the film transforms into two very distinct halves: the relationship elements with Jen are interesting, sweet and a great bit of acting from Chapman and Taylor-Joy as they navigate unchartered waters trying to discover how they turn this into something meaningful. The other half is about the three young men who party too much and at one point, see a young girl hit by a car and die—a moment that transforms all three of them in very different ways, especially Kearney, who seems super-charged at the idea of watching someone die and attempts to re-create the feeling by taking a trip to America and possibly playing life-and-death games with homeless men—a practice he brings back with him, unfortunately for Matthew.
There’s a strange metaphor that both Kearney and Matthew indulge in that involves them working out their aggression and the resulting feelings on an imaginary talk show, where the audience judges them and the host goads them on into increasingly reckless behaviors. Since the days of such interactive chat shows have long since passed, I’m not sure the extended use of this device really lands the way the filmmaker thinks it does, which is a shame because it takes up far too much time in this movie.
There’s nothing about the story’s progression that doesn’t telegraph exactly where it’s headed, but the actual conclusion of the film is a bit startling as it pits friend against friend on a playing field I wasn’t quite prepared for. I suppose if I’m not that interested in what characters are up to for most of the time I have to spend with them, then there’s no way the film could work for me, and that’s largely true for Here Are the Young Men. But then you look at this very talented group of actors (Conleth Hill as Kearney’s awful father should be added to that list), and it’s tougher to dismiss the movie outright. Although I can’t quite recommend the film, I think those eager to get even a supporting dose of Taylor-Joy will not be disappointed in her performance here. Although not exactly a glorification of the behavior on which it is throwing a spotlight, the film is often a muddy, unpleasant mess.
The film is now available to rent and buy digitally.
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