Smash hit set for Chicago premiere

Mark O'Connor.

By Mike Houlihan

Film buffs claim D.W. Griffith made the first gangster movie in 1912, “The Musketeers of Pig Alley,” starring Lilian Gish and Elmer Booth.

The silent film is only about 16 minutes, but it introduced many of the elements of our modern-day gangster film, including “follow focus,” a camera action, big city tenements, poverty, and an anti-hero named Snapper Kid, sympathetically played by actor Booth. Many believe that Snapper Kid was the precursor of many of Jimmy Cagney’s characters in the golden age of Irish noir in the 1920s and ’30s.

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These films captivate Irish filmmaker Mark O’Connor, whose brilliant “Cardboard Gangsters” will make its Chicago premiere on the coming Saturday, Sept. 29 at the 4th Annual Irish American Movie Hooley. O’Connor and his frequent collaborator and star John Connors have done three films together so far. “Myself and John are fascinated by all that stuff, gangster movies, going all the way back.”

A scene from"Cardboard Gangsters."

“Cardboard Gangsters” delivers a dark contemporary tragedy of Shakespearian scope, played out within the tribal confines of Darndale on the outskirts of Dublin. John Connors’s performance as the ballsy wannabe gangster taking his shot at the drug lord boss and the boss’s wife, won him the IFTA Best Actor Award. Director Mark O’Connor will be present for the screening and discussion afterwards at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago that Saturday night.

The film was Ireland’s smash hit last year and continues to play on Netflix there, reaping rave reviews across the board and picking up the best feature film award at the Manchester International Film Festival last year. It’s a scary, heartbreaking and very intense movie with a handful of bravura performances. There’s not one wasted scene in the film, it moves like a high-speed train coming off the rails as it plunges over the cliffs to certain doom below.

O’Connor considers himself a “cultural filmmaker,” peeling the veneer off a world that we know exists but have maybe never seen before. “There’s a lot of Irish hip hop in there, that would be interesting to an American audience, to see that, hear the music,” the director said. “And also just that world, it’s a world the people wouldn’t have seen before. It’s like nothing you’ve seen before from Ireland. They don’t tend to make gritty cinema like this.”

There are no leprechauns in this flick folks, to be sure.

Mark grew up in South Dublin. “Lower middle class, and then we moved when I was about 15, I had a good upbringing,” he recalled. “A lot of my films have been involved in that other world, but I’m not from those areas.

John Connors at the IFTA Awards ceremony in February.


“I got into film through martial arts, kind of, and then I went and studied in Ballyfermot and then after I was working in London, I got some work with the BBC, but then I got an opportunity,” he said. "I wanted to study more so I went to the New York Film Academy in Manhattan. I lived in NY for three years, so I was working there in the Bronx.”

You can see the martial arts influence in his film, it’s a fast paced thriller that pulls no punches. And Darndale is no Disneyland, with its drug trade, violence, and Traveler culture. Watching “Cardboard Gangsters” is maybe what an audience felt back in 1912 when they first saw “The Musketeers of Pig Alley.”

We’re excited about hosting Mark in Chicago for the 4th Annual Irish American Movie Hooley. He’s bringing his wife and young son with him for the week. Why not join us at the Siskel Film Center on Saturday for the Chicago premiere of “Cardboard Gangsters”? You can meet the filmmaker O’Connor, have a pint at the Emerald Loop after the show, and talk gangster movies with us.

Remember: we know a little bit about gangsters in Chicago.

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