Irish Bicycle Thieves: The Young Offenders

Conventionally Irish audiences do not got to see Irish movies. While this trend has improved slightly in recent years, it was especially sweet as a Corkonian to see The Young Offenders deliver a box-office hit as well as receive critical acclaim. The comedy works as a love letter to Cork as we follow two locals on their adventure to search for a bale of cocaine off the south coast and gain their fortune. Their journey of self discovery showcases Cork’s scenic beauty and the depth of Corkonian character.

Movement in The Young Offenders is the heart of the narrative. The opening scenes of the movie highlight the significance of Jock’s relationship with Garda Healy played by Dominic MacHale. Healy’s obsession with catching the prolific thief is intertwined with the narrative vehicle of the movie – bicycles.

Intertextuality rears its head here with the motif of obsession. As Healy struggles to catch a bicycle thief, we are reminded of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. In that movie, the societal imperative on framing a fairer world for youth is explored in the protagonist’s relationship with his son. The Young Offenders demands that adults not fail the protagonists and perform as suitable role models.

When I interviewed Dominic MacHale earlier in the year, I asked about the inspiration for his portrayal of such an interesting character. Roy Keane was fittingly one of the role models for the performance, acting as an appropriate balance between determination and insanity. As Dominic stated:

“When I met the director of The Young Offenders, Peter Foott, to discuss the part I would be playing, the name of Roy Keane came up in relation to the character. While they are extremely different in many ways, one similarity is a relentless pursuit of something. Keane as a player was all about victory. The aesthetics were of little importance. Detective Healy has a similar mentality. He’s not worried about fitting in or being liked. Keane didn’t always play by the rules as his disciplinary record will attest and as can be seen in the film, neither does Healy.”

Literal vehicles as narrative vehicles is of course nothing new in movies, take any racing film such as Days of Thunder. However, The Young Offenders playfulness with the trope is wonderful to behold and acts as a springboard for much of the pacing and jokes in the film. The absurdity of physically peddling such a long journey hammers home the juvenile nature of the central characters and comic dementedness of Garda Healy.

As a filmic bildungsroman, The Young Offenders succeeds in style. Initially we are introduced to naive inexperienced characters behaving as one would expect. When we learn that they come from a socio-economically deprived area and of Jock’s violent home life they earn our sympathy. Classic Irish issues such as alcoholism that are as pervasive as ever are dealt with deftly. Loneliness, abandonment and lack of familial contact drive characters to substance abuse.

Jock and Conor peddle away furiously from their undaunted pursuer

A quick solution is not offered but the film does clearly suggest friendship and actually talking to someone alleviates much of the condition of human suffering. When the characters come to a place of experience at the end of the narrative we feel it is authentic and earned. There is no shortcut to success and seeing the two engaged in honest work is ultimately an inspirational ending.

Allusions to 1940s Italian film however is not what made The Young Offenders such a success. Indeed that honour goes squarely to the humour. Colloquialisms aside, the humour here is of a universal nature that anyone can enjoy. Authenticity brings people to enjoy a film more. There is nothing worse than enduring a movie where children or teenagers engage in conversations that no child on earth would have. Peter Foott’s writing and directing deliver dialogue that an audience can immediately identify as being truthful to human nature. 

When I asked Dominic why he felt Irish films traditionally do not do well, and what made The Young Offenders different he offered:

“Truthfully, I don’t understand why this is the case. Some of the best films I have seen in the cinema have been Irish-made. Perhaps there is the feeling that as it is Irish and not American or British, it will be a smaller budget film, have lower production values and lack big-name actors. These factors might act as a deterrent to some. Hopefully The Young Offenders will help change these preconceptions. In fact, a friend told me that someone had recommended that she go and see the film by saying ‘It’s not just a good Irish film, it’s a good film!’, which I think is quite indicative of people’s mind-frame.”

Works Cited

De Sica, Vittorio, director. Bicycle Thieves. Ente Nationale Industrie Cinematografiche, 1948.

Foott, Peter, director. The Young Offenders. Wildcard Distribution, 2016.

Lynch, Daniel. “The Young Contender.”, 21 Nov. 2016.