Here Are The Young Men

Pictured from left to right: Finn Cole, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Dean-Charles Chapman, Anya Taylor-Joy courtesy of TYM Productions

Brian Quinn

A Dublin Odyssey filled with Dark Potential.

“Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders,
Here are the young men, well where have they been?
We knocked on the doors of Hell’s darker chamber,
Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in.”

Don’t let the name fool you. Here Are the Young Men may take its title from Joy Division’s sad banger classic, Decades, but the film, so full of thrills and pills, steers well clear of the band’s patented bleak-chic. At its best, it’s fast, loud, bright and so hard to ignore you’ll find yourself swept away on a current of teenage-angst and drug-fueled merrymaking—hangovers be damned!
Admittedly, the party has been a long time coming. Having met author Rob Doyle in 2014, Eoin Macken – best known for his performances in Merlin, The Night Shift and, lest we forget, Fair City – quickly sought to adapt his novel for the big screen. Seven years later, Here Are the Young Men arrived on digital platforms April 30th, having been dealt a series of setbacks since its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh last July. The pandemic disrupted what was to be an exciting festival run around the world, while its theatrical release date (at the time of writing) has yet to be announced, with cinemas nationwide remaining closed until further notice.
For the moment, lighting up our small screens is Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), a disillusioned adolescent, who after finishing school is gearing up for a hot summer of debauched delights. By his side are Kearney (Finn Cole), wild-eyed and devilish, and Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), the sensitive soul of the bunch, who you’re just as likely to see with his nose in a book as you are a mound of Columbia’s finest. Young, dumb and looking for fun, for these three troublemakers, the world is their oyster. But when a young girl is run over by a car right before their eyes, that world comes crashing down.

“Watched from the wings as the scenes were replaying,
We saw ourselves now as we never had seen.
Portrayal of the trauma and degeneration,
The sorrows we suffered and never were free.”

Our characters unravel from there on, navigating their trauma through a series of cramped clubs and broken homes. At least Matthew has Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy), his will-they-won’t-they girlfriend, to comfort him. Kearney on the other hand, takes off for America to binge himself blind, smothering the pain with anything or anyone he can lay his hands on. When he does return, his actions become increasingly hostile and sadistic – and for once jetlag isn’t to blame. As for Rez, he retreats, hiding behind his wild mop of hair for the majority of the film with only the occasional mumble finding a way through. All this just goes to show that The Verve might have been right all along: The Drugs Don’t Work.
What does work, however, is the film’s visual flair, due in no small part to James Mather’s skill behind the camera. Having previously worked on Adam & Paul (2004) and Frank (2014), the cinematopher knows a thing or two about bringing Dublin to life. Party sequences zip along at a frenetic pace, successfully pulling you into the bodily bedlam that is club culture. And while we might spot familiar locations – Balscadden Bay Beach and Belvedere College, to name a couple – the film makes an effort to stray off the tourist trail, keeping the action tucked away, in alleyways, shady lots and colourful street corners.
Some of these locations aren’t even tethered to reality. In surreal moments exploring the boys’ repressed emotions, Macken blurs the line between fact and fiction, using a fantasy US talk show to mirror their inner turmoil. It’s an intentionally jarring directorial choice reminiscent of The Hunger Games (2012) and Natural Born Killers (1994), and although overused, it does mark a brave attempt at fleshing out Doyle’s visceral prose for the screen.  

“Weary inside, now our heart’s lost forever,
Can’t replace the fear, or the thrill of the chase,
Each ritual showed up the door for our wanderings,
Open then shut, then slammed in our face.”

Too much has been made about the Irish accents attempted throughout Here Are the Young Men. As a nation, we love nothing more than to moan aloud when our colloquial rhythms are caricatured for the silver screen. But here, barring Walsh-Peelo, who’s Irish – and therefore exempt from national ridicule – the actors do a fine job. In fact, Walsh-Peelo might give the weakest performance of the lot; some call it subtle, I call it bored. My heart does go out to Taylor-Joy though, she makes a bad part watchable, but only just: Jen is there to be looked at and prodded, but never understood. Cole just might steal the show from Chapman; his dark charisma eats up the screen, and we’re only happy to watch him take every last bite. 
Truth be told, there might be a bright side to the film’s stalled release. In the interim, cast members have kept busy, building up their star brands to the point where Anya Taylor-Joy is now a household name, thanks to her star turn in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit. Chapman and Cole haven’t kept still either.The former last seen wading through the trenches of 1917 (2019), while Cole, a Peaky Blinders regular, has become the latest addition to the Fast & Furious megawatt ensemble.
With summer in bloom, noughties trends back in vogue and a cast proving more marketable than ever, now seems the perfect time for Here Are the Young Men to come of age. But like most snarky teens, it’s a film stuffed with ideas but lost for words, not really sure what it wants to say. Too sweet to be sour, too sour to be sweet, we’re left with a soap opera wanting to be regarded as a snuff movie. But with its trippy visuals and a host of throwback tunes to bop along to, it’s a ride worth taking, if only to relive the pre-pandemic days of crowded clubs and regrettable dance moves. Oh those days … 

“Where have they been?
Where have they been?
Where have they been?
Where have they been?”

Here Are the Young Men was released via digital platforms on April 30, and will be coming to Irish cinemas later this year.

‘Decades’ by Joy Division. Lyrics: Bernard Sumner, Ian Kevin Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris.