Man to Man

By A.W. Stevenson | Drama
A father and son talk about life, love and everything in between.

A father and a son meet regularly over a pint at a local pub, sharing conversations about life, love and everything else in between. Equal parts expressive and laconic, the pair often rib, jibe and skirmish with one another, but there’s always an underlying affection to their interactions.

Over the years, their conversations evolve as their lives do, with the son finding love and settling into life as a father and the father becoming older and wiser in years. Their relationship and understanding of one another deepen as well, as their connection eventually comes full circle in a quietly powerful way.

Writer-director A.W. Stevenson’s hushed, intimate gem of a drama revolves around that most elemental exchange in human civilization: the conversation. But by capturing the changing tenor and texture of a series of exchanges over time, the film also captures the emotional complexity of the father-son relationship and the ways in which it shifts and evolves with time and experience.

The film initially appears to be a modest, resolutely smaller-scale narrative, taking place over a number of years in a cozy pub, and there is a certain muted tenor to the colors and sounds of the craftsmanship. Visually, the film never feels constrained, however, attuned as the editing and pacing is to the characters’ inner lives and emotions. It’s not the space around the dad and his son that matters, but what’s between them, and the aesthetics are firmly focused on this intimacy.

This approach allows the writing and performances to take center stage, and both are rich in insight and feeling. The dialogue achieves the remarkable trick of capturing two distinctive characters’ voices that nevertheless share a commonality in worldview and history. The son may be more querulous and anxious as a young man making his way in the world, and the father more suffused with a melancholy that arises from getting older, but they share unexpected common ground, especially as their conversation grows in candidness and intimacy and they see one another as fellow men trying to lead good lives.

The pair are brought to life by a pair of terrifically responsive performances by Hugh Gormley and Killian Coyle as the father and son, respectively. Their performances collectively are specific and precise, evoking the transformation of each character over time. But through this specificity, they achieve an archetypal portrayal of a deeply affecting father-son bond, in which a deep river of feeling and love flows underneath the chatter and talk, occasionally surfacing at key moments in life in rich and moving ways.

While some short films dazzle through spectacular craftsmanship and others deliver bravura high concepts, “Man to Man” achieves its resonance through its emotional honesty, leavened with some very Irish humor and ending with a heartfelt, poignant scene that earns its deep feeling through patient, sensitive observation. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to be personal and intimate about the relationships between men, which in many ways makes it a brave and beautiful work in a world still full of rigid expectations of how men should act and be.

For a seemingly quiet story it takes risks in its unabashed sincerity — and rewards viewers with its experience of how deep the love between parent and child can go, no matter how time or death may separate them.

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