Barber: The BRWC Review
Private eye movies like The Long Goodbye, The Thin Man, Klute, and others follow certain beats, such as taking a case, investigating, getting a new gadget from a “tech” guy, solving the case, and more. In between moments, you’ll find the private eye drinking hard liquor, breaking minor laws to get information, and following leads that end up nowhere. There’s usually a femme fatale that the private eye gets involved with, while she’s part of the bad guys at the center of the case. These tropes are comforting and battle tested with positive results.
However, in the film Barber — which was written by Fiona Bergin and Fintan Connolly (Eliot & Me) — Irish film director Connolly (Flick, Trouble with Sex) turns the private eye sub-genre on its head, while delivering a movie that’s tailor made for the socially conscious viewer. In some ways, it feels like a bizarro Irish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in tone.
Barber tells the story of Valentine Barber, played by Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight Rises), a private eye who’s hired to find the missing granddaughter of an affluent widow. Barber must also keep his family together — after coming out as a gay man to his wife — and business from falling apart due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic plays a hefty role in the movie because most characters are masked up, wearing face shields, and standing or sitting six feet apart, while signs posted around Dublin, Ireland remain a reminder of life during COVID. “Hey! Social distancing!,” Barber shouts at the police inspector who gets a little too close for comfort. The private eye was forced to resign from the police force after he was outed for his sexual orientation.
While the film is an old fashioned pot boiler with a lot of trickery and investigations, Barber looks to fit notions of hard-boiled detective work into 21st century norms. For example, Barber being openly bi-sexual makes older generations uncomfortable, but is presented as a matter of fact instead.
Moreover, the mystery of the missing girl ties into the #MeToo movement with inappropriate behavior being called out by victims and allies. Barber even calls out “Times up” when he confronts his homophobic former-boss. The film feels of its time, but does it casually instead of being shoehorned or virtue signaled.
Overall, Barber is cool, charismatic, and well played by Gillen, while the film itself is subversive, clever, and sharp as a detective on their next case. It checks all of the boxes when it comes to a private eye genre film, as well as turning it upside down.
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