Trapped is a low-budget Irish film, originally entitled Anton, which was shot in 2008 on location in Cavan. Now available on DVD, Trapped is set in 1972, beginning on the day after Bloody Sunday, and deals with the Troubles and its effect on one man’s family.
Anton O’Neill (played by writer/co-producer Anthony Fox) returns from a long time away at sea, after hearing the call of his homeland, an initially idyllic little Cavan town near the North-South border. There, he is reunited with his brother Edward (Cillian Roche), his old friend Brendan (Andy Smith) and his wife Maria (Laura Way). However, it is not long before Anton begins to get bored with this slow rural life, where farming and drinking seem to be the only preoccupations.
Anton falls back with Brendan, an angry young man who is adamant to go up North and help in the struggles against the British Army. Anton is unconvinced, until the army stops his family on the road and proceeds to humiliate them. Following that, Anton and Brendan rob a post office across the border. This crime throws Anton into an increasingly violent conflict with the menacing and bigoted local Gardai detective Lynch (Gerard McSorley) and a ruthless IRA man Diarmuid (Vincent Fegan), just as his family needs him the most…
Although the plot outline may seem fairly easy to follow, the film’s awkward pacing leaves a lot of questions unanswered. In the space of the first ten minutes, we are introduced to Anton as well as every character named above and the political and historical setting is established. The film opens with one of Anton’s letters to Maria, telling her that he is returning because he feels the call of his wife, his family and his country. However, he is almost immediately swayed into crime and away from his family. Anton’s motivations completely shift and the only conceivable reason for this is a rather uneventful and somewhat comically overplayed run-in with the British Army. It is unclear whether it is boredom or anger or the influence of others that leads him to neglect his family and dabble in terrorism and murder.
The third problem with the film is its refusal to engage with the politics of the situation.
However, this problem is easily forgotten as the film bombards you with more and more information. Maria finds out about the robbery, Anton is beaten by Lynch’s men, Edward is sexually abused with a truncheon by Lynch’s men, Maria has a run-in with the British, Anton and Edward are captured by the IRA, and then Maria has a miscarriage. All of this happens in the next ten minutes and the one impression that all of it leaves is that the film is a hopeless mess. One particularly long prison/asylum plot strand is disastrous. In fact, the whole film feels like the back-story until seventy minutes in, at which time every character is finally where they need to be and the film itself can begin. In the final twenty minutes, the film does improve and might actually make you care, if by then you want to.
The film’s plot, which is its most problematic aspect, continues in this manner for most of the film, and leads to the film’s second problem. Trapped has no characters. As the film is packed with incident, it has no time to slow down and create believable characters, ones that an audience might want to emphasize with. We only know that we should feel bad for Anton because the score tells us to. And though a miscarriage would normally make a character rethink their priorities, no sooner has Anton found out about it that he is off to Belfast to hear Diarmuid tell him why the IRA is so brilliant. However, Anton is not the only character that does not make sense.
Edward goes from tortured informant to happy country bumpkin who only wants to have a family to gun-toting sidekick. Worst, however, is the character of Detective Lynch, played by Gerard McSorley, presumably to give the film some marquee value. McSorley was brilliant in the 2004 TV film Omagh, but he is less than convincing as a hardened and bigoted thug. However, the filmmakers themselves seem to become aware of this, as Lynch’s character becomes softer and softer. Eventually, he is actually concerned about Anton’s plight, despite having not too long before assaulted Edward with a truncheon and poked a gun into a pregnant Maria’s stomach. Although most of the cast equip themselves reasonably well, none of them have been given roles to really sink their teeth into.
The third problem with the film is its refusal to engage with the politics of the situation. Not unlike Godard’s great Le Petit Soldat, in which a French spy during the Algerian War becomes disillusioned with politics, Trapped seems to be a film that is trying to present a politically confused character caught between two violent sides. We never know quite why Anton decides to join the IRA, but maybe Anton doesn’t know either. However, at one point, Anton rather comically states, “I made a difference to people who didn’t have the rights of a dog.” By this point, it is known to an audience that Anton has done nothing but foul up. Anton becomes not merely a politically confused character, but a rather troubling one. The filmmakers don’t address how Anton could possibly think he has done anything of worth, instead offering only the typical Hollywood lesson about the importance of family. Anton becomes only a cipher and the filmmakers’ own politics and morals come under question. Trapped becomes a film about a politically confused character, only to become itself politically confused. Although this may be cleared up by the film’s end, it remains unclear why the filmmakers took such a vacuous and rather thoughtless approach to what was such a problematic time.
Trapped wants to be a thriller about one man trying to save his family during the Troubles, but it overloads itself with plot and refuses to have any understandable or likeable characters. Their motivations constantly shift to accommodate the film’s terrible plotting. Along with some questionable politics and a stodgy script, the film is messy, bland and unconvincing.
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