Premiering at the Venice Film Festival in 2019, Peter Mackie Burns’s Rialto centres around the mild-mannered and overly apologetic Colm (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) as he falls victim to a self-destructive downward spiral. In the aftermath of his father’s death, the protagonist finds himself being made redundant from his life-long job at Dublin’s docks as he grows distant from his caring wife (Monica Dolan). Returning to his old drinking habits, Colm’s only solace is in a sexual relationship with 19-year-old prostitute Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney).
Written by Mark O’Halloran and based on his stage play Trade, Burns’s cinematic adaptation is draped in a tangible, sombre atmosphere. Long static shots of washed-out colour linger just that little bit too long, creating an uncomfortably bleak atmosphere which frames viewers within Colm’s own forlorn mindset. Whether he’s attempting to stitch the tattered pieces of his family life back together or to awkwardly express his affection for the cold and distant Jay, Vaughan-Lawlor is brilliantly pitiful in this role. Delivering O’Halloran’s dialogue with believable honesty, he gives the impression of a man who’s been worn out by life over the years and who needs a means of escape. Likewise, the rest of the cast – including Michael Smiley in a small role – are also excellent, though they’re not given as much of an opportunity to shine outside of the spotlight.
Emphasised by a hauntingly melancholic soundtrack, the feature’s dark tone perfectly suits its grounded screenplay and highlights the control the filmmaker exerts over each scene. However, this is also to the detriment of the overall impact of the narrative. While the cold and closed-off mood gives viewers a sense of how Colm views the current situation, this atmosphere builds a barrier between us and him. We may be able to see how he perceives things, but we are never given an opportunity to understand the man behind the alcohol and sex. Consequently, it becomes difficult to connect or sympathise with his plight as the hole he digs for himself only gets bigger. Combined with a resolution that will likely leave viewers feeling as unfulfilled as Colm, the overall experience of Rialto is a rather solemn one – and not for all the reasons the filmmaker intended.
Rialto is released in select cinemas on 2nd October 2020.
Watch the trailer for Rialto here: