White Irish Drinkers
Peter Travers
"Writer-director John Gray digs into his own background to create the ardent and atmospheric White Irish Drinkers, a semi-autobiographical look at two brothers growing up in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn in 1975. Gray, best known for the CBS series Ghost Whisperer, avoids any trace of the supernatural here. The close, cramped intimacy of this film is so real it stings.

Nick Thurston nails every nuance as Brian Leary, 18, a wannabe artist who has to sneak off to paint in a neighborhood that slaps away pretensions. Gray identifies deeply with Brian, not as a painter, but as a kid who dreamed of being a filmmaker. Brian's swaggering older brother Danny (the excellent Geoff Wigdor) is a small-rime crook who finds easier acceptance among his peers, laddie-boys who are proud to dodge the drug scene in favor of partying hard as white Irish drinkers.

What unites the brothers is a shared love/hate relationship with their longshoreman father Paddy (a superb Stephen Lang), a boozehound with a penchant for smacking around Danny and his own too forgiving wife Margaret (Karen Allen, her expressive eyes a mirror into the emotional pain Margaret holds inside).

The performances are uniformly terrific, finding the specific details that create a universal truth. Something hidden in Paddy's past allows Brian to escape his father's fists. The result for Brian is survivor's guilt. He finds sexual comfort with Shauna (Leslie Murphy), a travel agent who shares his dreams of busting out of Brooklyn. And he latches onto a surrogate father in Whitey (a splendid Peter Riegert), who hires Brian to work at his movie theater. The plot pivots on Whitey's jackpot scheme to call in a favor and have the Rolling Stones play at his theater for an hour before they head off for a concert at Madison Square Garden.

Gray builds tension as Whitey gears up for his big night and Danny preps to rob the box office. But the soul of the movie lies in the legacy of violence and the dynamics that can connect a family or crush it. For Gray, White Irish Drinkers is one from the bruised heart."

Neil Rosen

"The new indie film "White Irish Drinkers" takes place in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 1975, and the cast includes some veteran actors and some impressive newcomers as well.

Brian is basically a good kid who reluctantly gets involved in petty crimes with his older brother Danny, who he looks up to and loves. But Brian isn't cut out for a life of crime. He's a talented artist who spends his free time painting with watercolors and charcoals in the basement of his parents' apartment, where both he and his brother still live.

Their father is a blue collar guy who is physically abusive to Danny, but never lays a finger on the more sensitive Brian.

Brian has a job working at a run-down movie theater that's on the verge of going under. When the owner, Whitey, who owes the mob a lot of money, calls in a favor, he gets the Rolling Stones to play there, which might just rescue the old place. The problem is Danny wants them to steal all the proceeds from the concert, leading to a crisis of conscious for Brian.

Writer-director John Gray has made a film that is filled with realistic characters that nicely captures both the neighborhood and the era. There's a romantic subplot, a great surprise twist and the mood and tone are right on the money.

Nick Thurston, who plays Brian, gives a heartfelt, believable performance that's filled with subtle nuance and emotion.

The old pros, such as Peter Riegert as Whitey, Karen Allen as the boys' mother and Stephen Lang as the hard-drinking father who takes his anger out on everybody, are all superb.

It's an authentic New York slice of life, and the "coming of age" story has depth. The main character is at a crossroads and you'll be rooting for him all the way. "


Marshall Fine
"…Full blooded contrast to the usual independent film, which tends to be both bloodless and overly controlled."
Rex Reed
"White Irish Drinkers is a thoughtful coming-of-age story with bracing performances, solid writing and direction by John Gray, and inescapable take-home values that give you a feel-good lift.  Set in 1975 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, it tells the story of a bright, sensitive 18-year-old named Brian Leary (a superb job by charismatic newcomer Nick Thurston) from a working-class family grappling with hardships to make ends meet and find purpose in a bleak existence.  It was a time of Andy Warhol soup cans, Godfather movies, and disco fever on the eve of Saturday Night Fever, but unlike John Travolta, Brian escapes from dead-end reality through art.  He’s so talented he can make a complete portrait out of a frosted windowpane with his index finger.  His friends have no interest or aptitude for anything beyond a high school diploma they can use to learn car repairs or apply for a job as a sanitation worker.  College?  Learning technology? Fine arts?  Nobody understands Brian’s dream of going to college to Carnegie-Mellon to study art, least of all his loving but long-suffering mother (welcome back, Karen Allen) or his abusive, alcoholic longshoreman father Paddy (the always amazing Stephen Lang) who saves his brutality for Brian’s older brother Danny (Geoff Wigdor). To escape his hardscrabble life, Danny follows a life of crime, and Danny is on the way to becoming his accomplice. But this is a boy with a conscience who turns the basement room under the bagel shop in his parents’ building into a secret art studio where he creates impressionistic charcoal drawings and watercolor sketches of the city around him, donning headphones to drown out the noise and shouting between his parents.  Brian also works in a broken-down movie house called the Lafayette with no E’s on the marquee where his boss Whitey (Peter Riegert) plods along, in debt to the mob.  Suddenly, like the switch on a light bulb, an idea hits them between the eyes. Through an old connection, Whitey talks the manager of the Rolling Stones into booking the rock group for a secret one-night-only concert prior to their appearance at Madison Square Garden. Even with nothing but word of mouth publicity, the sold-out event is the biggest thing that ever happened in Bay Ridge.  The revenue from the Rolling Stones tickets will not only save Whitey’s life and his bankrupt theater, but Brian’s share of the profits might get him out of his hopeless blue-collar Brooklyn despair forever. But Brian is the only one who knows his felonious brother Danny is planning a robbery during the show to steal the box-office proceeds.  Torn between his loyalty to Whitey, his love for Danny, and his own sense of morality, Brian turns to his new girlfriend Shauna (Leslie Murphy) for help.  Before any choice is made, the tables turn violently in a series of shocking finales, changing all of their lives forever.  

The claustrophobic Brooklyn ambience is totally authentic, the friendship between Brian and his  buddies is so real it results in the best aimless camaraderie since Marty, and the romantic subplot provides a ray of hope that is touching.  White Irish Drinkers is a gritty and moving film about finding the courage to get out of a soul-destroying life with no future before they carry you out.  I found it consistently interesting and gratifying, and I was immensely impressed with Nick Thurston, an appealing actor with intelligence and self-assurance who is going places, and writer-director John Gray, who has already arrived with a bang."
David Friend
"The jewel of this year’s CRAIC Irish Film Festival, which opened last night at New York’s TriBeCa Cinemas, is director John Gray’s White Irish Drinkers, a raucous, touching, vital hard-knocks family drama that offers an exquisitely written script, a series of plot twists and a medley of spot-on performances from young talents Nick Thurston (right out of U.S.C.) and Geoffrey Wigdor, along with seasoned screen eminences Karen Allen, Stephen Lang, and Peter Riegert.

The film ostensibly revolves around a local Brooklyn theater in the mid-1970s whose owner has inexplicably convinced the Rolling Stones to play for “one night only.” But the movie builds from that delightful premise into a love story, a caper-gone-wrong film, and an examination of family dysfunction with hints of The Fighter. It is, more centrally, a coming-of-age, how-do-I-break-out-of-the-boroughs saga that has the unabashed verité, fresh insight, richly developed characters, riveting soundtrack—and high-grade testosterone—that helped to distinguish Saturday Night Fever.

An impromptu finger-painting class in the corner tavern…a drunken soliloquy by the astounding Stephen Lang…a bare-knuckled finale—and a naked romp through a Queens cemetery—are worth the price of admission…and a pint. Or, better: Sneak in a hip flask. And plenty of tissues to daub your hot Irish tears. (The film opens March 25 in New York, Los Angeles, and Cambridge, Mass.)"

INDIEWIRE "White Irish Drinkers" is a gritty, moving story about finding the courage to make a better choice, rather than accepting the easier options that lie directly in front of you. The quiet, tenuous glue that somehow holds the family together is the boys' mother, Margaret, played with earthy stoicism by Karen Allen. Despite years of a soul-destroying marriage to a profoundly difficult man, Margaret's staunch Catholicism demands that she stand by him, even though she is afraid to face the inevitable realities of her sons' futures. When she discovers Brian's secret studio, she shares a spark of hope, fulfillment and amazement that she has a child with a gift, something that may lift him into a better future than any she could provide."
Cahir O'Doherty

"White Irish Drinkers, which opens this Friday nationwide, is the name of the best-written, most tightly directed new Irish American coming of age film in over two decades.

From the opening scene, what makes White Irish Drinkers worth your time at the cinema this weekend is that it introduces us to this combustible world without a trace of sentimentality or cliché, and that fact alone makes it a distinctive Irish American film."

John Anderson

"Several worlds away from "Potiche," yet in the same era, is writer-director John Gray's "White Irish Drinkers," an emotional coming-of-age story with one foot in '70s Brooklyn and the other in the '40s of Cain-and-Abel crime dramas and urban sociology à la Warner Brothers. Produced independently by Melissa Jo Peltier and Mr. Gray, who created TV's "The Ghost Whisperer," it is built on archetypes: Brian Leary (Nick Thurston) is a sensitive kid with an artistic gift; his brother, Danny (Geoffrey Wigdor), is a small-time criminal and Brian's tormentor; their mother (Karen Allen) is a martyr; their father (Stephen Lang) is a drunk. The storyline involves a one-night-only show by the Rolling Stones that Brian's boss, Whitey (Peter Riegert), has somehow arranged in order to save his failing movie house. There's also a loan shark (Broadway vet Ken Jennings) with his eye on the gate. All the moving parts—including Brian's gang of boyos, who can't decide whether to join the Civil Service or have another drink—are in place for well-oiled melodrama

What gets in the way of all this formulation is honesty. Mr. Gray's bareknuckle take on tribal Bay Ridge would hardly have flown in the '40s. Maybe not the '70s, either. Alongside Brian's fears of his own talent, and fears about leaving home, is a great deal of casual brutality, disappointment and drink. As the bewhiskered patriarch, Patrick, Mr. Lang is a domestic terrorist, ruling his household through fear, beating his older son and drowning his own unhappiness. Although this is a young man's movie—Mr. Thurston is particularly good, and his exchanges with romantic interest Leslie Murphy sparkle—it's the older actors who deliver the dramatic gravity.

Frequently enough at the movies, an isolated scene can take place in which an actor who may or may not be the lead steals the whole film through naked emotion, or power, or eloquence. Mr. Lang certainly has one here. He's a menacing presence throughout the film; he's the picture of fatherly tyranny and manly despair. But he has one particular moment, with dialogue written wonderfully by Mr. Gray, wherein he makes the fearsome, broken, brutish man he plays in "White Irish Drinkers" the most beautiful thing in Brooklyn."

Kyle Smith

"The "White Irish Drinkers" are a fist-fighting gang of feisty Irish-Americans in Brooklyn in the mid-'70s who aspire to be sanitation workers and bus drivers. Here you "catch a beating" as easily as a passing breeze, usually from your sad and sodden dad.

Saturated with atmosphere and strongly acted, the movie is a far more resonant and convincing portrait of working-class life than the recent awards-bait phoniness that called itself "The Fighter." Young actors Nick Thurston and Geoffrey Wigdor are solid as squabbling brothers, one of them drawn to a possible future as an artist, the other resigned to being a petty thief.

Even better are Karen Allen and Peter Riegert, those "Animal House" lovers, who unfortunately don't share a scene this time. He's a desperate owner of a dying local theater who solves his debt problems by persuading the Rolling Stones to do a concert. She's as tough as brownstone playing the loving but dim mom who overspices all food in the belief that it's healthy and -- when Carnegie Mellon calls about her talented younger son -- reports that it's the Carnegie Deli calling. Stephen Lang (the villain in "Avatar") somewhat overplays his hand as the angry, boozing father.

Writer-director John Gray, who created "Ghost Whisperer" on TV, is a son of Brooklyn whose love for the borough is as thick as a pint of Guinness, and he keeps finding fresh ways to present familiar plot points. I don't think I've seen another movie where young people flirted by running naked through a graveyard."

Jeffrey Lyons
"A powerful family saga with compelling performances."
Ray Bennett,

"Bottom Line: Entertaining twists and turns in a clever drama that will win big if it gets the chance.
TORONTO -- A movie with the unprepossessing title "White Irish Drinkers" about two brothers living in the Brooklyn docklands in 1975 could easily be filled with cliches but in the hands of filmmaker John Gray, it's a sparkling piece of entertainment that deserves a wide audience.

The set-up is formulaic with Stephen Lang as a tough Irish longshoreman who likes to slap his wife and eldest son around but dotes on his younger son, even as he mocks him for being soft. It sounds like a hoary old '40s B-movie, but Gray's screenplay is atmospheric, inventive and full of surprises, and his direction draws vivid portrayals from his players.

Nurtured properly, the film could find a responsive audience across generations with its savvy mix of youthful restlessness, crime, romance, broken traditions and a little bit of rock 'n 'roll. Gray, who has had an eclectic directing career on television and a couple of features, and created the series "Ghost Whisperer," shows full maturity as a filmmaker.

Lang, with a pleasing lack of false bravado, plays Patrick, who always takes a drink or four on the way home and then takes it out on wife Margaret (Karen Allen, warm and matronly) and son Danny (Geoff Wigdor), who is cut from the same cloth as his father.

Nick Thurston has a star-making turn as younger son Brian, who gets along with everyone but keeps his talent and passion for drawing and painting hidden away. Danny is a petty criminal who tries to involve his brother in his crimes, but Brian is no criminal and is much happier putting in time at the local theater run by Whitey (Peter Riegert, in a shrewdly sympathetic role).

Gray introduces intriguing plotlines seamlessly as Brian falls for pretty travel agent Shauna (Leslie Murphy); Whitey, in hock to a loan shark, schemes to bring the Rolling Stones to his theater; and Danny plans to steal the proceeds. Scenes between the painter and his girl, and with his mates, and between the brothers and their mother have heft and depth. Wigdor gets Danny's rough edges right and Murphy is fresh and open as Laura.

Gray keeps the surprises and twists coming as Brian grows through the story with Thurston combining tenderness with sharp determination and a willingness to seize opportunities when they arise."

Joe Leydon,

"…Persuasive performances, outbursts of robust humor and a vivid yet understated evocation of time and place… focusing on a sensitive young man stirred by vague desires for a life beyond his tribal Irish-American working-class neighborhood in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn… (Writer-Director)Gray again evidences a sharp eye for revealing character detail, a good ear for distinctive (and often quite vulgar) figures of speech and an uncondescending appreciation for sometimes affectionate, sometimes belligerent give-and-take among working-class friends and family members. Some of the best scenes involve Brian's interplay with neighborhood buddies who proudly prefer booze to drugs -- pic's title is their self-celebrating motto -- and gruffly insist that landing a civil service job (with, they repeatedly emphasize, medical benefits) is a more practical option than earning any college degree."

Bruce Kirkland,
"Tough and gritty drama... White Irish Drinkers is a visceral experience."
Michael Giltz,

"Right towards the end of the (Toronto) fest, after most critics had left, I saw this solid drama about a young man coming of age in Brooklyn in the 1970s. It's a good film debut for TV maven John Gray, best known for the hit series Ghost Whisperer and a string of solid TV movies. This is clearly a labor of love and it benefits from a strong cast, including Stephen Lang, Karen Allen, Peter Riegert and talented newcomer Nick Thurston.

Relative unknown Thurston is very appealing as Brian Leary, a sensitive young lad growing up in the rough and tumble of Brooklyn in the Seventies. His older brother is a petty thief. But Brian works at the local cinema, convincing the owner to book rock acts from time to time, obsessively draws in his basement hideaway and fancies the local travel agent with a sharp tongue but a friendly smile. When Brian's boss unexpectedly pulls in a favor and arranges to have the Rolling Stones do a one hour concert in Brooklyn, everyone's dreams collide, with Brian's brother pushing him to rob the place and his boss hoping to avoid a death sentence from the local hood he owes too much money to. Melodrama might intrude towards the end, but the acting is solid throughout and Thurston has a low-key charm -- he could be the kid brother to Kevin Connolly's Eric on Entourage. But unlike a player in Hollywood, Brian has to learn that he has a right to play the game in the first place. Sweet, unforced."
Sandy Mandelberger,

"While all filmmakers are the inheritors of the film masters who came before them, it is important that their films register as original artworks too. In WHITE IRISH DRINKERS, veteran television director John Gray wades into "Scorsese/Saturday Night Fever" territory in a story based in the solidly Irish working class enclaves of Brooklyn of the 1970s. The story centers on two brothers, one a petty thief and the other a budding painter, who must rely on one another in the midst of a household dominated by their violent father and their sympathetic but powerless mother. Of course, we've seen this dynamic before, but Gray, who also produced and wrote the passionate script, goes beyond the cliches of the sub-genre to find a strong truth about family bonds and the need to transcend one's origins… Stephen Lang finds great depth in the role of the abusive father; Karen Allen, who has some beautiful moments as the mother who holds the family together; and Peter Riegert as a hapless businessman whose craftiness is not revealed until the final reel. The film provides a major showcase for the attractive newcomer Nick Thurston, who provides a very winning and introspective approach to his role as the fledgling artist who needs to find a way out in order to most fully express his inner truth. Also strong is newcomer Geoff Wigdor, who connects with the violent outbursts and deep hurt in his character as the older brother… The film handles all the melodrama with a sensibility that never capsizes its emotional truth. One only hopes that a distributor of taste will champion this tender and expressive film."

Tom Henheffer,

"It was fantastic. One of the best films I've seen at the (Toronto) festival".