Reviewed for FilmFactual.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Directors: Neasa Ni Chianáin, Declan McGrath
Screenwriters: Neasa Ni Chianain, Etienne Essery, Declan McGrath
Cast: Kevin McArevey, Jan-Marie Reel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/31/22
Opens: September 23, 2022
Does anybody major in anything these days outside of computer science and business management, focused on companies they hope will recruit them for big bucks? Oh, you say you heard that a few are taking Poli Sci, History, Cinema Studies? How about philosophy? There was a report a few months ago holding that some corporations are actually going all out to hire philosophy majors. Why? They know how to think. That’s what philosophy teaches you. And while Spinoza and Kierkegaard are too difficult even for graduate students, they have no problem with Plato and Seneca in one primary school in Catholic-majority Northern Belfast. Yes, students there up to the age of ten lap it up because they have a super teacher as principal.
Let’s be realistic. These kids are not going to be turned on by Plato’s theory of the tri-partite soul or pay rapt attention to Sartre’s “No Exit.” But they can think for themselves on their own level. What principal Kevin McArevey of the Holy Cross Boys School wants them to learn, especially in an area that has seen enough violence involving British troops and Irish armies, is anger management. When you think with the help of philosophy, you realize that violence does not solve anything but leads only to more violence, and this principal, with the aid of a few teachers, makes his presence felt. Though some children still fight in the schoolyard now and then, they are brought to task, made to apologize to their combatant friends, and express remorse—real remorse as they cry with shame and hug their sparring partners.
Just like young people here especially from the ghettoes where drive-by shootings and random violence affect their lives, so do kids in Belfast, one of whom noting that his grandmother still keeps a bullet in her back as though a souvenir from the Troubles of the 1980s. Directors Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath bring archival black-and-white shots to show the class to remind them of how brutal lives were then before they were born.
McArevey, a big fan of Elvis judging by the chachkas in his office, goes over just as well with the parents, who sit rapt in attention as he explains to them how to use the examples of philosophy to deal with their own children. He is also physically fit, leaping up three stairs at a time, doing chins in the gym along with a few colleagues, kicking and punching a bag and pedaling furiously on the stationary bike.
Children often lose their enthusiasm for school as they get older. They raise their hands furiously in primary school, holding on to some enthusiasm, by Middle grades, but are typically silent when asked questions by teachers as though to show their classmates that they are too cool to bother answering. Yet these poor kids from Northern Belfast may reject the philosophy of the typical high school student in America, retaining their enthusiasm thanks to their experience with this incredible Renaissance man.
102 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B