Imagine if Kubrick had attempted to insert a few slapstick scenes into '2001: A Space Odysey'. Or, what if the recent 'Miami Vice' movie had occasionally stopped to investigate the lives of prostitutes in the city? Neither film would have successfully dealt with such a juxtaposition, and a similar fate befalls 'The Front Line'.
'The Front Line' is the story of Joe Yumba (Ebouaney), a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who is still haunted by the terrible conflict in that country. He arrives in Ireland looking for a new life, but is soon drawn into the world of organised crime by Eddie Gilroy (Frain), who kidnaps Yumba's family so that he will help them carry out a robbery at the bank where he works as a security guard.
The story of Joe's attempts to deal with his past in a foreign and alien city does not sit well with the story of his unwilling descent into Dublin's criminal underworld. All too often the tone of the film switches abruptly and the audience find themselves thrown from a dramatic car chase to an emotional recounting of the brutality of the war in the Congo, or vice versa.
If the film intended to be a heist movie then it is slowed down by the focus on issues of immigration. If the film was supposed to be a moving discussion of Joe Yumba's attempts to bury the ghosts of his past in a foreign city, then it is massively undermined by the sort of one-dimensional characters that exist in heist-type movies and also by a scene in which it suggested that there is a vast and coherent African criminal underworld in Dublin.
The most disappointing thing about 'The Front Line' is that there is indeed a very good film in there - perhaps two - but the stories get muddled together and ultimately fail as one.
Moreover, occasionally, the script and the actors conspire to provide some of the worst ham in Irish cinema. For example, in the otherwise effective and well-acted scene in which Yumba is reunited with his family, an Irish immigration official stands in the background and rather redundantly states, "It has been a long time, hasn't it?" in what appears to be some sort of subtitling service for the emotionally-impaired.
The usually reliable McSorley coasts through the film in second-gear, rarely having to stretch himself with the paper thin Detective Inspector Harbison, a character that seems to have been cobbled together from the clichés of a million other TV and movie cops.
However, Ebouaney is excellent and, had the stories been narrowed to one centred on Joe Yumba's attempts to deal with the ghosts of his past, it would have been a simple but effective piece of film-making. On the other hand, Frain (despite an accent which occasionally slips) and Kae-Kazim would have been very enjoyable as the respective Irish and African crime lords in a great Dublin-based heist movie.
Unfortunately the audience, whatever their tastes, will leave 'The Front Line' frustrated at what could have been.
Barry J Whyte