The Mighty Celt: Shadows on the Wall Review
Posted at 9:56 AM (PDT) on Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Review by Rich Cline
Shadows on the Wall

This gentle story of a boy and his dog has enough grit and energy to be both entertaining and insightful. It's nothing particularly original, and there's a willingness to drift into cliches, but it's enjoyable while it lasts.

In Belfast, Donal (McKenna) is a young teen who lives with his single mum Kate (Anderson) and works after school for Joe (Stott), a greyhound trainer. Donal has a natural ability with dogs, and makes an agreement with Joe to train a dog named Mighty Celt, with the chance of owning him if he wins three races. Then a shadowy figure from the past (Carlyle) reappears, dredging up memories of IRA violence and relationship secrets that begin to drastically change Donal's interaction with everyone around him.

Writer-director Elliott has a bracing ability to avoid childishness even though the story is about a young boy. Donal is allowed to smoke and swear like the best of them, which adds a realism we don't expect, as does a humorous subplot involving Kate's disastrous attempts to find a new man. Yes, on the surface this is a cute story about a boy bonding with his dog, but there's a strong undercurrent of Irish violence in here as well. And Donal's tenacity to pursue what he knows to be his God-given talent for dog-training is strongly felt throughout the film, even more so in the face of so many obstacles.

Extremely strong performances from the entire cast bring this to life. McKenna is terrific as Donal--edgy and tenacious, someone we like and want to cheer for. Nothing quite prepares us for Anderson's feisty turn as a skinny, working-class Irish mum. And Carlyle is perfectly cast as the charming man with a mysterious past. Stott has the thankless role as the guy who becomes darkly jealous and then vicious for no obvious reason. This cliche undermines the film somewhat, as does the structure of the race sequences (do we have any doubt what will happen?). And the frightening violence will be a bit much for young viewers. But it's a strong, engaging film that's well worth a look.