DIRECTOR Ciaran Foy WRITER Ciaran Foy STARS Aneurin Barnard; James Cosmo; Wunmi Mosaku DVD 30 September
As the feature-length debut of promising director Ciaran Foy, Citadel is a solid and competent work. Set in a truly dour urban landscape, devoid of compassion and rife with violence, The atmosphere is further conveyed with a washed-out palette and a clever use of isolation — no other cars are shown on the roads, there are no shops or people going about normal business. Despite the immediate impact of this, the film lacks the lingering depression felt after the fact, such as in Requiem For A Dream (2000).
The bleak conditions provide the perfect backdrop to Aneurin Barnard’s performance of Tommy, who, powerless to help, witnesses the murder of his heavily pregnant wife at the hands of a gang of feral children. The baby survives her mother’s death, leaving Tommy a single parent living in condemned squalor, and now suffering agoraphobia as a result of his experiences. This is the strongest aspect of the film, benefitting from Barnard’s refusal to overact the agoraphobia response and chronic desperation of his character’s situation, but gives it an early level of attainment that it fails to sustain.
For early scenes, the director fires a warning shot that the viewer cannot rest easy; some stark, transgressive imagery depicts a syringe stabbed into a gravid belly. He appreciates that the unpredictable threat of such sights reoccurring is a more effective tool than saturation, and resists gratuitousness. Foy also works the perfect response out of the threat to the child; he admirably avoids using it as a cheap crutch for easy empathy and instead utilises the baby to illicit a genuinely unsettling concern.
The influence of two deliberately polarised characters is designed to move Tommy from his neutral position of progress as a result of his afflictions. The problems with the film arise when one of these influences is removed to force the character through the script and to achieve his arc, but in doing so the heart of the piece is lost and the solid acting performances are not enough to halt a descent into mediocre genre fare. The film also becomes very confused when it veers towards the supernatural, which detracts from the grimy realism, but not to the extent that it re-treads ground covered in similar pieces such as Heartless (2009).
As writer, Foy failed to resist becoming too attached to some of his plot ideas, and not even James Cosmo’s polished delivery as an atypical priest could hide the overstating of the gang’s potential ability to sense fear and a later clumsy attempt at profoundness. In these areas more ambiguity would have been preferable, and this is confounded by the need to complete the Hero’s Journey as Tommy overcomes his inner and outer demons to rescue his baby; this could have been played out over any backdrop and thus renders the gang and the environment largely redundant.
Despite falling short of its early promise, Citadel is a worthwhile experience when in the mood for a film that picks at the scab of the more desolate side of life.