In Brad Gann’s film Black Irish, Tom Guiry plays a seething blur of Southie rage named Terry. His unemployed dad (the redoubtable Brendan Gleeson) drinks heavily. He’s got a pregnant teenage sister, a saintly little brother, and a careworn mother who’s trying to keep her deteriorating family together.
If the film, which opens on Friday, is predicated on some threadbare Irish-American clichés, it’s saved by some compelling and committed performances. Even the accents, more or less, are spot-on.
Guiry? Let’s just say you wouldn’t have a hard time imagining him beating the shit out of a Yankee fan in the late-night Lansdowne Street gloom. That despite the fact that Guiry is a Yankee fan: he was born in the Bronx, and grew up in Jersey.
Even so, he says, hoisting a few pints on a studio-sponsored pub-crawl after a sneak-peak screening this past Wednesday, the character was based on people he knew growing up. “It’s pretty much how I was raised, really. It comes pretty easy to me.”
He’s also got experience playing red-haired guys with names such as Brendan and Jimmy. Guiry was the under-suspicion boyfriend in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, and played the fuck-up older brother in NBC’s The Black Donnellys.
Adding authenticity to Black Irish — above and beyond a soundtrack that features Boston-bred punk bands Lost City Angels and the Unseen — is the gray, sodden grime of the film’s sixth character: Southie itself.
The story was originally set in New York, but after scouting locations in Boston, Gann writes that he “immediately understood that these neighborhoods, infused with Irish culture, have retained customs and mores that have remained virtually impervious to outside influence.”
His quote echoes Ben Affleck’s remarks to the New York Times this past week about his own Gone Baby Gone, which was filmed on location in Dorchester and Roxbury: “I wanted something raw and authentic and even a little scuffed up. People go to the movies to see something they can’t get otherwise. . . . This was a chance to take you somewhere that you couldn’t otherwise get to — the Boston you never see in the movies.”
I wouldn’t quite say never. Indeed, we seem to be in the midst of a blue-collar-Boston-Irish-movie boomlet. It started, arguably, with Affleck’s own Good Will Hunting 10 years ago. Then came minor films such as Southie, Boondock Saints, and Monument Ave. Later, Mystic River and The Departed won Oscars. Now, opening within two weeks of each other, both Gone Baby Gone and Black Irish plumb the corroded depths of working-class Boston.
What gives? Is the rest of America just hungry for movies about our insular, inimitable city? Is it our own pre-emptive nostalgia for a vanishing way of life in this wealthy, fast-gentrifying town? And are we only going to see more of them as Hollywood throngs the Hub since those new film tax credits were adopted this past year?
Guiry, for one, isn’t sure. He does know one thing, though. Asked if he is afraid of being pigeonholed as a Boston-Irish tough, his answer is quick and emphatic. “No, I think it would be great! If I get typecast as that, maybe I’ll get more parts.”