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Excellent performances, solid direction and a simple yet poignant story, Lakelands is one of those rare hidden gems that deserves a wider audience.

Directed by Patrick McGivney and Robert Higgins, Irish film Lakelands centres on a player of a local small-town football club who has his life altered following an injury, and struggles to get back into the sport and enjoy his life. With it's excellent performances, solid direction and a simple yet poignant story, Lakelands is one of those rare hidden gems that deserves a wider audience.

Playing Cian Reilly is Eanna Hardwicke (Vivarium), who gives a stunning yet understated performance as the conflicted, often flawed lead character. After being attacked on a night out outside a club, Cian slowly realises he may not have got off as lightly as he thought injury-wise. Despite not feeling quite right and receiving advice to slow down by his Doctor, he faces the pressure of playing football, helping his Dad out on the farm, and being a role model to the rest of the town and his friends. The character is very real, and Hardwicke plays him well. Starring opposite as returning old friend Grace is Danielle Galligan (Shadow and Bone). Grace finds solace in Cian after having to return home to care for her ill Father, and in turn, Cian finds solace in Grace as someone who understands what he's going through. The pair are great both separately and together, showcasing believable chemistry. It may not be a love story, but with these two characters, you want it to be.

Despite having strong themes of toxic masculinity, pressure, friendship and illness to name a few, Lakelands tells it's story quietly. It is a very simple and small story, but with all it's intricacies and little details, it feels powerful, poignant and large. This isn't just due to the characters but the script, that is always thoughtful and careful but intriguing and interesting at the same time. The movie is purely dialogue but never drags, always having something to say that adds to it's important message. Everything is handled masterfully by the two directors, who have proved they are worth keeping an eye on. This is a really strong character study that remains in it's leads head, telling a real story about a real person. Fans of this style of film will easily find something they like in here, as it hits the nail on the head with it's small-town, introspective approach.

Due to it's simplistic approach, Lakelands doesn't push the boat out very far with it's technical aspects. Whilst some of the locations are nice to look at, the cinematography is fairly repetitive and underwhelming, and it's editing straightforward. For some, the storyline may be a little too slow-moving, as it repeats a lot of it's scenes and is perhaps ten minutes too long. Some will love it's naturalistic approach, whereas others will be willing for more emotional pull. Unless you're from a small-town or appreciate/relate to the themes at hand, it may not resonate with you as much as it's filmmakers are hoping.

Lakelands is a very competent introspective drama that is backed by two of the best performances of the year thus far. It handles it's themes with care, tells an important story and does it's best to create an effective character study. The best thing about Lakelands is it's deep dive into masculinity in Sport, a very relevant and important topic that deserves more screen-time. It may not blow every viewer away, but it deserves a shot.



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