Paddy Slattery, writer-director of new Irish crime thriller Broken Law told David Hennessy what inspired the tale of two brothers on opposite sides of the law but also about how his motivation as a film-maker is to change people’s perceptions of disability.
The Irish crime film Broken Law has been positively received since its release in Irish cinemas last month. Written, directed and produced by Offaly’s Paddy Slattery, the movie is about two brothers on opposite sides of the law.
Dave Connolly is dedicated to his job as a guard but his loyalty to the force is tested when the robber he is chasing removes the balaclava to reveal he is his brother, Joe. As he has just been released from jail the day before, Dave does not want to throw his own flesh and blood straight back inside knowing he is condemning him to that life.
Tristan Heanue plays Dave Connolly while Joe is played by Graham Earley. John Connors, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Gary Lydon are among the supporting cast.
Debut feature filmmaker Paddy Slattery told The Irish World he took inspiration from his own family for his tale of two brothers on very different paths: “Blood is thicker than water. No matter how loyal you are to the law, your family is your family and that transcends all the other politics of life.
“There’s always something that binds brothers. It doesn’t matter how estranged you might be, there’s something even from way back in childhood that will connect them on that brotherly level.
“I’ve got three brothers myself. One of my brothers, James: I love him dearly but we would have that Dave-Joe dynamic between us.
“I decided as a writer to look into myself more and explore the dynamic between myself and James. We were both rogues. I was always considered the golden boy. I was the elder son. My mother reared eight of us on her own and I was working and handing up a wage so I was considered a good guy but there was a rogue in me as well, I was a young lad and I was up to no good with the other lads.
“In many ways on the surface it might look like I’m wearing this identity as a role model and a good guy and a breadwinner but there is this other side to me as well. It was just about looking at myself and seeing the lines between good and bad are quite ambiguous and sometimes depending on our life choices we find ourselves having those little skeletons in the closet.”
Of course, Paddy’s brother James is not a criminal. This is not always necessary to earn a bad name or be considered a black sheep.
Shot in a slick and gritty style, Broken Law begins with Joe walking out of the prison gates. When he meets up with his friends Wallace and Pete, he is talked into helping them with a job. However, Joe or his two accomplices could not have known Dave would be at the bank applying for a loan when they burst in to rob it.
“The majority of reviews have definitely been very positive. I mean even the top critics, although they did highlight some problems, they were still generally positive and they didn’t really judge it as a shoestring budget debut. We were held accountable for what it was and we were happy with that.
“I guess it was a leap. Making a feature film, it’s the same discipline as making a short but multiplied by ten in terms of scale.”
Making the leap to the longer form presented extra considerations for this project on account of Paddy being left disabled by a car accident that happened when he was in his teens.
“It was a challenge for me as I’m quadriplegic. Stamina-wise, I wasn’t quite sure if I was able for it.
“We came so close to production two previous times and I had trained my body to go into it and it was derailed and I was like, ‘Oh jaysus, we’ll never get this done’.
Adrenaline and the legend of his father, who was also a guard, inspire Dave to tackle and disarm one gunman and chase the other masked raider.
“His father died in the line of duty. You don’t just have an off-duty guard there seeing this maniac with a gun, you see a guy that is in love with an icon who did die in the line of duty. It’s almost indoctrinated into Dave’s DNA to be a hero in that moment. It’s almost like a reflex so he’s not thinking of the outcome. He was endangering life there by pulling that gun on the guy but he goes into military mode and forgets. I guess his over-riding motivation there is to just stop a scenario from escalating.”
However, all Wallace and Pete know is that Joe disappeared with the bag of money and start to believe Dave’s being at the bank was no coincidence. With Joe lying low, they kidnap Dave’s girlfriend to get some answers.
The film also looks at how people can be treated differently due to wearing either a Garda uniform or a sleeve of tattoos.
“Something we say or do or something like a tattoo, if it garners particular reactions from people, we sometimes tend to assume that identity and wear it and carry on with it. Suddenly we’re assuming this kind of identity or role that might not necessarily speak the truth of who we are. I think we find there are a lot of people out there in the world looking for their identity and assuming different styles or cultures or identities but at the end of it when they really look closely in the mirror, they realise they might have lost their way in terms of who they believe they are.
“I don’t want to intellectualise what is essentially a crime thriller, a very familiar story between brothers on opposite sides of the law but when I was writing it, I did want to try and inject some deeper layer of meaning in there that maybe some people can come away from and think, ‘You know what? Although it is a crime thriller and you get what it says on the tin there’s a little something else there that we can hold onto and that might resonate with us on a deeper level’.”
Paddy wrote his first draft of the script over a decade ago and it started out life as a more epic piece with multiple storylines.
“I like to explore the themes of fate versus coincidence and the title was The Broken Law of Attraction. My life at that time, I was beset with these seemingly traumatic experiences that seemed like they were the consequences of some very unfortunate or coincidental experiences and on hindsight or observing those experiences, I realised that they were the consequences of my own actions.
“It wasn’t coincidental I was in a bad car crash. When I traced back my steps, I realised that I did something wrong that led to that point so in the film itself I wanted to explore the elements of fate versus coincidence but taking responsibility for the outcomes.
“In 2016, 2017 when it eventually got into early development we realised we couldn’t raise the necessary budget to do a bigger film so what we decided to do was concentrate on the brothers’ story. What I found then during those rewrites was that those themes of loyalty and even legacy and even a crisis of identity, where those lines become blurred between good and bad and brother and cop and I liked to explore that.”
Paddy has won numerous awards for his short films. He is also a poet and songwriter.
Did his disability affect production or how was that managed? “It is a challenge. Making short films down through the years was prepartion for what I might encounter on a feature.
“You’re already looking at potential red flags in terms of wheelchair access so on the feature it just meant I had to have more preparation time. It would be nice to be able to, on a whim, be able to run into a different location and shoot. It all has to be recce’d before I can even go down there because again we were running and gunning on a very small budget, a small crew and we are moving quite fast.
“For example, we had to shoot a scene outside an airport. We just had to get down and recce it very quickly to make sure the green room’s alright for wheelchairs. When we’re shooting scenes on the side of the road that there’s somewhere I can sit with the wheelchair. I don’t have to put myself in any kind of unnecessary danger.
“The only unconventional process was that we scheduled it differently so we gave myself plenty of day breaks during the shoot and our crew and cast were happy with that because we were on a shoestring budget. Because they weren’t paid what they would generally be paid, the actors were happy with the downtime during shooting as well.
Paddy suffered life-altering injuries when he was involved in a horrible car crash in 1996. Not wearing his seat belt meant he had broken his neck meaning he would be a quadriplegic. Although he may have naively thought initially he may have been back playing football before too long, a doctor had to break the news that he would never walk again. His injuries meant he would spend a full year in hospital followed by a couple more of being in and out.
However, it was after his crash that Paddy started reading a great deal after never liking school. He knows he would have never directed a film if it hadn’t been for the accident.
“If I hadn’t had that crash, I would more than likely be working somewhere in construction. I would probably be struggling to pay off a mortgage. I would probably be struggling in a marriage on the way to a divorce. I would probably have a car in the garage that I couldn’t afford. That’s probably the likelihood of where I would be economically judging by other people that I would have grown up with and where they are now in life.”
However, Paddy focused on what he was able to do rather than what he had lost. This journey has led to him becoming a poet, a songwriter, a motivational speaker as well as a filmmaker.
While he was in rehab he heard of several suicides by people he knew who seemed to have everything to live for. He realised that the key to everything was perspective.
“The good thing about my situation was after my crash, being in hospital for a year and then two years on and off, I had so much time on my hands to figure out who I was. I wanted to heal myself in some way, I wanted to know myself more.
“During that time I was watching movies every day. I developed a love for films. I also looked out at the world around me.
“While I was paralysed and, seemingly on the surface my life was going nowhere, we had lost two people very close to us here in the community to suicide: Two young people my age at the time. They were in my class and here I was paralysed but quite happy and content with who I was and where I was going with my life but they seemingly had the world at their feet, all of their physical health and they were gone.
“That made me realise that your happiness and your wellbeing is not determined on where you’re going physically in your life. It’s all psychological and if you don’t have that, you’re in trouble.
“I started to see movies were a very powerful influence on people and I thought, if I could become a film-maker, I might find myself in a position where I could influence people and maybe share with people my perspective on life and maybe show that you don’t have to be physically healthy or financially affluent or good looking to be successful in life. If you have a good love and respect for yourself, in my opinion, that’s the miracle of life.
“That was my motivation getting involved in film.”
Although he was changed forever by the accident, Paddy could have easily been killed.
“At such a young age, I was thinking, ‘How am I going to get with women?’ All these kind of 17-year-old’s questions.
“I was never depressed. I suddenly had another opportunity at life because I was very close to dying and I know how very close, even seeing the car afterwards and how I was even taken out of that car was a miracle.
“The way I see it, I was always blessed to be alive and have a second chance to make the most of.
“That’s what frustrates me and motivates me. I know people and I love people dearly who are suffering on a daily basis from depression. If only I could hand them over my mind for a second and show them the world that I’m looking at through my eyes. Hopefully through film I might have the potential to do that.”
Paddy was asked to leave one of his own film sets once, because the person didn’t know he was the director. He feels we have some work to do regarding how we treat those with disabilities.
“When you see disability portrayed in the media as a figure of sympathy or weakness, it’s difficult to dispel those preconceived notions.
“It’s nice to see disability represented in a healthy manner somewhere in the public eye but you don’t always get that. Sometimes I cringe when I see certain movies about disability because I find that they’re very patronising although the people who are behind them are probably writing them with the best of intentions.
“There’s nothing worse than somebody coming up to you and saying, ‘Ah Jesus, God love ya’.
“Somebody came up and patted me on the head one day. I was at a small concert here in the Midlands that I happened to be playing in with my band. One of the other organisers, I didn’t know him personally, came over and patted me on the head as if I was a child. It was like, ‘Fair play to ya now, getting out there in your wheelchair’. I would never wish violence on anybody but sometimes you want to get up out of your chair and give someone a kick up the arse!
“The world we live in today is quite a superficial world in many respects. We don’t have the healthiest view of people with disabilities or physical deformities or intellectual disabilities based on generations, maybe centuries of an unhealthy perspective on what disability actually is.
“We’re trying to shed all these generations of preconceived notions of what people with physical or sensory disabilities are capable of. You’re up against people that are almost writing you off before they even know you. That is frustrating and to be honest that is one of the main motivations I’ve had over the last 20 years not just as a film-maker but as a human being: To go out of my way to prove to people that I am just as happy, just as healthy, just as functioning, just as productive and influential as anybody else.
“I guess that was my mantra. I wanted to show people that you just need a good head on your shoulders, a good mind and a good brain and a good love for yourself to be the best version of yourself in life.
“If over the next generation or two we can show people that irrespective of your physical, sensory or intellectual disability that you can function just as happily in this world then that would be a good cause to pursue.”
The other young men in the crash suffered superficial injuries but Paddy never had any bad feeling towards the driver of the car who was a complete stranger to him and just someone he happened to accept a lift from.
“I wasn’t angry at the driver. I was thumbing a lift home from work with two friends and the three of us were in this stranger’s car and the stranger crashes. It was caused by a van and another tractor. I haven’t met the driver since that crash. I don’t think he had the courage to meet me. He just felt overwhelmed with guilt and shame and he couldn’t physically talk for years after from guilt, couldn’t even drive or anything like that. Physically he was fine but mentally he was absolutely traumatised.
“During that time I wanted to get somebody to convey that message to him that I’m perfectly fine, happy and he shouldn’t feel guilty or anything like that. I never felt anger or resentment towards anyone because I observe my own actions leading up to that. I didn’t wear the seatbelt. I ran into the car first. These are things I need to take ownership of rather than pointing the finger of blame at somebody else. We don’t have to look too far in the world to see how easy it is to point the finger at somebody else for the troubles in our own lives. For me it was a process of looking in the mirror and realising that if I’m in a sh*t position in my life, that’s down to me and I need to figure my way out of it.”
Paddy left formal education after his junior cert and moved to London where he worked on building sites.
“I didn’t like school and I begged my mother for a long time to let me leave school and the one condition she let me leave on was that I was earning a wage and paying my way. She let me away to London. I was working on the buildings and there was a huge Irish contingent over there anyway and I just clicked in with a couple of those.
” was over there for a year. I loved the experience of it. I loved earning the money and the hard work and the craft. I loved London in a weird kind of way. At 15, 16 I wasn’t legally old enough to go drinking or anything like that. I loved the vibrancy of London, I lived in east London and it was like a melting pot of cultures there.
“I did love it. However at that time 95, 96, pre-mobile phones, emails, I did miss my mates back home and there was a girl back home I fancied and I missed her. Once you’re out there in London, you’re cut off from your home so after a while I got homesick and I missed my mam’s cooking and I eventually bailed out, got on a boat and headed home. Then ironically not long after, I had the crash.”
Cruelly, Paddy would have been meeting up with the girl he was interested in the next Friday night had he not been involved in the unfortunate crash.
“London has been kind to me. I love it when I go back. There’s something I love about that city.”
Broken Law is in Irish cinemas now.