2 x 4
In recent years, the rise of the independent film has given voice to what may generally be called the disenfranchised. Gay and
lesbian filmmakers now regularly churn out features that make the festival circuit and occasionally crossover to the
mainstream. Similarly, in the past few years, there has been a growing number of Irish talents who have flexed their muscles
and found US distribution. Jimmy Smallhorne may perhaps be the first to straddle both worlds.
An Irish émigré living in the Bronx, Smallhorne makes an auspicious debut as star, co-writer and director of "2by4", a drama
centered on Johnnie Maher construction worker by day and bar denizen by night. Johnnie toils as foreman on a job run by
his uncle with the odd moniker of Trump (the late Chris O'Neill in a finely nuanced turn). He has a pixieish girlfriend
(Kimberly Topper) who purchases a pair of leather pants. Making him wear them for a night out at the bar, she teases
Johnnie about the looks he gets from other men, and then outright asks him if he ever had a relationship with another man.
Johnnie's glib reply about trying things once or twice, unsettles her and sets the tone for the eventual disintegration of their
relationship and Johnnie's search for his true self, which occupies the bulk of this relatively short (90 minute) film.
Johnnie's journey is all the more interesting because Smallhorne focuses on the details of his life. The camaraderie of the
crew rings true and it comes as no surprise that some of the actors are former construction workers. They work hard and
play even harder, hanging out at a bar (owned by Trump) where they down pints and play darts, or participate in karaoke
contests--at which Johnnie lip synchs in full out glam rock drag looking like a refugee from "Velvet Goldmine". It's no
wonder his girlfriend begins to have her doubts. She is also unaware of Johnnie's attraction to an angelic looking hustler
(Bradley Fitts) who proves more needy than the Irishman can handle.
While the denouement is fairly predictable and is preceded by a rather self-indulgent moment that threatens to negate the
cumulative effect of the film, "2by4" on the whole sheds a light on another, more personal kind of Irish "troubles". While a
relatively low-budget affair, "2by4" was shot by esteemed cinematographer Declan Quinn, who picked up an award at the
1998 Sundance Film Festival for his work on this film. Alternating between deep shadows with slashes of brightness and
naturalistic lighting, Quinn effectively underscores the mood of each scene. The fine camerawork coupled with Smallhorne's
galvanic star turn and sharp direction propel the film to its conclusion. It is only in the last third that "2by4" unravels a bit. Far
from being the cathartic scene it should be, Johnnie's moment of realization seems underdeveloped. What should be a
shocking, even painful moment plays weakly. Smallhorne may have been trying to ideally depict a reality among men, but it
leaves the audience wanting. Still, "2by4" announces the arrival of a new and potentially potent voice in the world of
independent film.
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.