Michael Inside (15A)
Prisons are places where small criminals become big ones. Such a transmogrification is demonstrated in graphic fashion in this tale of a meek 18-year-old from a North Dublin housing estate who’s given a two month sentence after being found with a stash of cocaine worth €2,000.
Michael McCrea (Dafhyd Flynn) is a carrier rather than a dealer but because of a previous offence a custodial sentence is imposed on him. The judge favours a ‘short, sharp’ reminder of the consequences of his action.
Once ‘inside’ he becomes exposed to a horrific hierarchy from the other inmates. The tenderfoot is targeted by those doing ‘hard’ time. He gets beaten. He has to ‘man up’ to survive. Each step he takes down the ladder involves more compromises, more embroilments, more threats.
He’s asked to conceal a phone. Then a sum of money. Then a sharp implement. Where will it end? “When you get out,” he’s informed chillingly, “that’s when the sentence begins.”
Michael is a statistic, another casualty of a culture that’s had this country in a stranglehold for many decades now. His mother died of a drug overdose and his father is in prison too. His grandfather Francis (Lalor Roddy), whom he’s been living with before his arrest, is now approached by the people who gave him the cocaine. They demand the €2,000 from him under threat of violence. He’s a man of limited means. If he coughs up, will it be the beginning of another spiral?
The unrelenting odyssey into the infrastructure of the drug trade is fascinatingly grim. Frank Berry directs with an unflinching honesty. He draws a performance from Flynn that’s as good as anything we’ve ever seen in Love/Hate and an even better one from the tormented Francis. The inmates look hand-picked from prison cells rather than casting studios. The script is as lean as a whippet.
Films like this should be shown in every community in Ireland that’s riven by drugs – and what community isn’t? It’s a cautionary tale about an ordinary young man who makes a mistake and – if we’re to judge by the film’s latter scenes – looks set to make many bigger ones in the future. He’s caught in a whirlpool where every action seems to lead irrevocably to a more dangerous one. The police aren’t supportive. The prison authorities seem equally helpless in stopping the ramifications unfolding.
You’ll probably stagger out of Michael Inside with a sense of fatalism, feeling the one scene of rehabilitation it contains – where a reformed ex-convict relates his story to Michael and others – is so at variance with the guts of the film as to seem positively naïve.
On the other hand, diagnosis is the first step to cure. Michael Inside shows us how easy it is to become enmeshed in a mire from which it proves well-nigh impossible to extricate oneself. In that respect it’s enlightening.