Alone, frightened and unable to speak English, Tayo (Ruth Negga, right), a young Nigerian girl who has been trafficked into Ireland, escapes from the back of a van in a Dublin alleyway. Picked up off the streets by street-level Mr Fixit Keely (Karl Shiels), Tayo finds a place to stay, work in a lap-dancing club, and the possibility of happiness - which in Tayo’s case means earning enough money to allow her twin sister to come live in Ireland. But Tayo has reckoned without Keely’s capacity for double-dealing, the persistence of her would-be pimp to see his ‘property’ returned, and the relentless nature of a malign fate.
Written and directed by Ciaran O’Connor, Trafficked is the closest Irish cinema has come in many years to a bona fide film noir. Although made almost eight years ago, and as such is something of a period piece examining the seedy underbelly of the Celtic Tiger, its subject matter is timely, and indeed timeless.
While the classic noir trope of expressionist lighting is absent, and Tayo far removed from the glamorous femme fatale, the film contains many of the noir staples: bottom feeders scraping a living from the mean streets, star-crossed lovers on the lam, the depressingly inevitable sense that fate will have the final say despite the best efforts of the protagonists.
O’Connor’s seedy Dublin is convincingly portrayed, although there is a preponderance of self-consciously poetic shots of the grim setting, while Negga and Shiels are convincing as a mismatched pair thrust together by circumstance, with the latter in particularly fine form as the charismatic lowlife Keely.
That the couple manage to scrape some tenderness from their brutal lifestyle adds to the film’s appeal, but this is in the final reckoning intended as a slice of gritty realism, and diehard noir fans will revel in an ending that pulls no punches. *** - Declan Burke
This review first appeared in the Irish Mail on Sunday
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.