Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

So my old dude tells me this story. He’s heading back home from Memphis after visiting his mother, my grandmother, and was walking back to his car from the supermarket. Being a bit clumsy and having wretched knees, my dad stumbles against some huge SUV thing while attempting to get into his Camry. The young man in the drivers side, apparently waiting for his lady friend in the store one can suppose, hops out of his SUV all ablaze that this old man has touched his ride. He starts threatening my dad, who begins to profusely apologize and just wants to get into his car and leave, but this young angry man is blocking his path. The angry dude pretends he’s calm, turns away, then swings back with his fist cocked to punch my father. First, who in world throws a punch at a slightly overweight, sixty five year old year old man with a limp? Second, you should ask yourself, as the old man is easily slipping this punch, ‘Self, I sure hope this old guy wasn’t some kind of Army Ranger Green Beret Special Forces dude'. Then as you fall to the ground completely crushed by the sixty five year old man with the bad knees and the closet full of combat decorations, it dawns on you that you really should be careful with you who you mess with because you never know. I thought of this story while watching David Gleeson’s taut crime thriller ‘The Front Line’ because I had the feeling the bad guys in this film may picked the wrong guy to use as a foil for their little heist.

Eric Ebounay portrays Congolese refugee Joe Yumba who we meet in an immigration meeting in Ireland attempting to convince the Detectives Harbison (Gerald McSorely) and Clohessey (Orla O’Rourke) that he is a political refugee and not dope dealer, criminal, pimp, or thief. Satisfied that Joe is on the up and up, he is granted whatever version of a Green Card they have in Ireland and the next time we see Joe he is working security at a local bank. Sadly while fleeing the Congo, Joe lost contact with his wife and child, but fortunately Detective Clohessey is able to track down Kala (Fatou N’Diaye) and Daniel (Brian Eli Ssebunya) and reunite the family. But we can tell this young family is hiding something, but what we won’t know what for a while.

Unbeknownst to Joe he is being watched closely by a group of brutal criminals led by the psychopathic Eddie Gilroy (James Frain) who yanks Joe off the street, stuffs him in a van and tells him that he will open the banks safe and allow this gang to have their way. Then they show Joe the pictures of his wife and child who the criminals have captive and swear to kill if he goes to the cops, or doesn’t do exactly as they say. Now Joe is in a bit of a lurch as the criminals have him over a barrel and he assumes that they will kill his family anyway, then also add into the mix the immigration detectives who know something is terribly wrong. Joe has a plan though, and it’s a risky one at that. One that will get everybody killed, including Joe, if he doesn’t work it just right.

‘The Front Line’ is a hard, tough, gritty crime picture punctuated by the tortured, shielded performance by Eric Ebounay. As the secretive but protective Joe, Ebounay effectively hides his emotions from the audience, but we can still clearly see his scars from his previous life in the Congo, both physical and emotional. It is fortunate that the character of Joe is presented to us with multiple layers because the rest of the characters in writer / director David Gleeson’s film are fairly one dimensional. James Frain is suitably creepy and psychopathic as Joe’s foil Eddie, but that’s about all one can glean from his character. Gerald MacSorely’s Inspector Harbison is locked in on duty and a basic distrust of those he assigned to assist, and though information is given to us about his past, but little is done with it beyond basic information. However Fatou N’Diaye showing considerable range in her somewhat limited role of essentially the prototypical damsel in distress, is able to raise the level of her character to more than that and imbue her with the pain and despair of a wretched past matching that of her husband. Also of special note is Hakim Kae-Kazim who at the same time manages to exude cool and menace as Joe’s old acquaintance from the Congo, Erasums.

‘The Front Line’ is tough movie, but a good movie with a hard urban feel, muted, washed out color palette and one that effectively conveyed the starkness of Joe’s situation without using unnecessary exposition. It’s also a film that I think copped out a little bit in the end in my opinion with the way Gleeson chose to resolve Joe’s conflict with the criminals, considering all we have come to know and learn about Joe up to that point. ‘The Front Line’ certainly isn’t the ‘feel good’ movie of the year, but if you like hard, bitter crime drama’s, and I certainly do, then it is one to watch.

Real Time Web