Property of the State (2017)
Property of the State (2017)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: April 7th, 2017 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Kit Ryan Actors: Aisling Loftus, Patrick Gibson, Elaine Cassidy, Hugh O’Conor, Gemma-Leah Devereux, David Rawle, Joe McGann, Hazel Doupe

 


 

“E

vil like that – it’s contagious.” Anne Marie O’Donnell (Aisling Loftus) is the sister of a triple murderer – one of the most notorious of all criminals and crimes – in Ireland in the ‘90s. She recounts her tale of being associated with someone who has done such a terrible thing, hoping to shed some light on how her brother arrived at his decisions – and why she hasn’t followed in his footsteps. Nevertheless, her relation to him will have a permanent, negative impact on the rest of her life.

As a child, Brendan (David Rawle) has screaming fits, grotesque visions, bedwetting episodes, and a disturbing inability to be independent of his sister and mother. Unequipped and uneducated for such scenarios, the doctor prescribes large doses of Valium, unconcerned with specific details of his condition; any child with behavioral issues can surely be cured with routine drugs. But even after their mother, Margaret (Elaine Cassidy), finally leaves their physically abusive father, their situation doesn’t improve. In fact, after falling into a depression and overdosing, Margaret hits her head, eventually dying from the trauma.

By the late ‘80s, their father remarries, and Brendan has further difficulties with a stepmother figure, even if she never really tries to fill a maternal role. Shortly thereafter, Brendan is sexually abused by a priest, sent to juvenile detention at Trinity House for four years (where he attempts suicide on multiple occasions), and kicked out of the O’Donnell household to live on the streets and in the woods like a feral cat. He’s proclaimed a psychotic and continues to escape from various institutions of incarceration, where he’s subjected to further rapes by the warders every time he’s recaptured.

Since none of the adults care to protect the boy – most assuming he’s making up stories to avoid going back to Trinity House (and later a real prison) – he’s never given the psychiatric treatment he requires. So, in this depiction of Brendan’s downfall, populated by endless abuses (which are considered nothing abnormal by the state), it’s not surprising that the youth would lash out with a capital crime after release from prison at the age of 17 (at this point, played by Patrick Gibson). With this setup, “Property of the State” is very much a textbook case of how a dangerous psychopath is created. It’s not mind-blowing – it’s entirely believable.

Although the film is trying to indemnify Anne Marie’s reputation against unfair judgment based solely on her incidental relationship to a killer (guilty by association), the first half is devoted to supporting all the very expected reasons why Brendan turned toward harmful actions – not why she’s so contrastingly normal. In many ways, this is Brendan’s story, not Anne Marie’s, even though it’s based on her journal, which chronicled her viewpoint of his upbringing. Far more than examining how his crimes affected her life, “Property of the State” dramatizes his tale, in plenty of details. Anne Marie’s own struggles are revealed so briefly in comparison that audiences aren’t even shown who fathered her child.

Although “Property of the State” is engaging in its reenactment of a notorious murderer, making sure to paint him with a sympathetic brush through a particularly cruel adolescence, it doesn’t do anything narratively or artistically creative to set itself apart. In fact, with all the unnecessary flashbacks, sequences of scribbling in a journal, and jumping back and forth in the timeline, it’s intermittently more confusing than informative. And when it comes to a close with its basic courtroom proceedings (most of which are verbal reiterations of images previously shown or suggestions of judicial malpractice), it grows ever more mundane and customary. Plus, the pacing is all wrong. Brendan’s hellish childhood and the fatal consequences of such atrocities were a great tragedy; unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite do any of these events proper cinematic justice.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10