One of the real treats of cinema is experiencing a performance by a young, relatively unknown actor or actress and then thinking of the great career they have ahead of them. There are goose bumps aplenty watching Belfast man Martin McCann in 'Swansong...', a film which delves into some of the most disturbing aspects of Irish society and what we have done to each other.

Born in London to single mum Bridget (Whittaker, good but always too young looking), Austin 'Occi' Byrne (McCann) returns with her to her hometown in Ireland as a very young boy and learns that, from family to neighbours to the Church, no-one has a good word to say about either of them. His mother struggles with guilt and ill-health while Occi is written off by peers and teachers as a lost cause - no nurturing, just abuse and dismissal.

But as Occi grows into a teenager the locals' contempt turns to fear when he displays an explosive temper and a willingness to unleash it if anyone crosses him or his mother.

Adapted from his own one-man show 'Swansong', Conor McDermottroe's first film as a director is hampered a little by a tight budget (sometimes things move too fast) and two plot developments which don't feel right (one the fate of Occi's fisherman friend, the other the identity of his father). Those aside, however, McDermottroe shows himself to be a filmmaker of real promise who can move from heart-warming to chilling and depict the remedial influence of relationships and cruelty towards the weakest with equal power.

As for his leading man, well, whatever 'it' is, McCann has loads. The camera loves him and his ability to switch from tender to terrifying and back again as Occi's journey of self-discovery plays out is superb. Seeing what McCann does here makes tracking down his feature debut in Richard Attenborough's 'Closing the Ring' and the recent HBO series 'The Pacific' a priority - and the performances to come can't come soon enough.

Harry Guerin