The 2023 crime drama thriller film Barber is an intriguing watch both because of the main mystery story it covers and also for the convincing threads of drama going on in the background. These two elements also sometimes come together, giving the film some effective moments. Set in Ireland during the early months of the coronavirus outbreak, Barber involves private detective Val Barber setting out to solve the mystery behind the strange disappearance of a twenty-year-old woman. Although the end and the overall plot might not appeal to all, Barber does provide for a mellow but entertaining watch.
Plot Summary: What is the film about?
Barber begins inside a dimly lit room, where a young woman is sitting with her headphones on, not realizing that someone walks into her room. The figure walks up in front of the woman, and as she looks up at him, it seems like the two know each other. Soon, it is revealed that this woman is twenty-year-old Sara Dunne, who suddenly goes missing one day.
The eponymous protagonist of the film, Val Barber, is introduced next, as he secretly photographs a woman on the streets. This action becomes clear when Val reaches his office, as the man runs a private detective agency by himself and a secretary, Oxana Popov. But unlike in works of fiction, Val’s job is much closer to reality, as the profession has him disinterestedly looking into the personal lives of jealous husbands and cheating wives. Once a part of the Garda police force, Val Barber has to work as a detective only to earn his living, and he is genuinely distanced from the job. There are some ongoing struggles in his personal life as well, since his teenage daughter Kate had been in a horrific accident six months earlier, and the girl is still suffering from some nerve damage. The girl also remains upset with a major event from her childhood—the divorce of her parents, Val and Monica. Despite being separated, Val’s love and care for his family still keep him concerned about them.
In such a scenario, an elderly woman named Lily Dunne walks into Val’s office, asking for help regarding a certain matter. Lily’s granddaughter Sara has been missing for the last four days, and the woman is desperate to ensure her safety. Lily mentions that she is not very trusting of the Garda police, therefore her presence at the private investigator’s office, and also mentions the finer details of the family. Sara’s mother was stuck somewhere away from Dublin because of the COVID lockdown rules, and so the girl had been living with her suspicious stepfather, Patrick O’Neill. Despite the girl’s disappearance, Patrick was of the opinion that she had just run away from the house, but Lily doubts this and appoints Val Barber to find the young woman before anything dangerous happens to her.
What are the secrets in Val’s life?
The private detective’s personal life is equally important in Barber, for he, too, has a number of secrets from the past. Val is a bisexual man who has often had casual flings, and a serious relationship, with men in Dublin, all while hiding his sexuality from everyone in his family and life. As the man admits, he had grown up in a very different Ireland, where being queer was not accepted at all, and coming out essentially painted a target on anyone who did so. It was for this reason that he had never told anyone else about his deepest secret, not even his closest friends, and had even doubted himself. As Val later admits to his daughter, for a very long time, he believed that his desires for men would go away with age. While this might be worthy of sympathy, Val’s decision to cheat on his wife with other men was something he should never have done, and he himself agrees to it. It is because of this adultery that his marriage ended, and led to further complications with young Kate, since the child held herself responsible for her parents’ divorce.
Several years ago, Val had gotten involved with a man named Eddie Quinn and had even started a secret affair with him behind Monica’s back. Eddie was struggling with alcohol addiction as well, and their passionate romance did not end well. Eddie’s elder brother, Tony, happened to be a police officer and is a senior chief at present, and the man found out about this affair. Tony, who still stands as the epitome of conservative and mean-minded beliefs, was livid and disgusted by the discovery, and he had seemingly arranged for their breakup. Eddie suddenly went away from Dublin, possibly after he was made to believe by his brother that his homosexual urges were because of his alcoholism. The man then also enrolled in rehab, believing that his addiction would seriously solve all issues in life. Just like Val, Eddie, too, must have felt the horrid pressure of being queer in orthodox times. It was also during this time, and because of this reason, Val was seemingly dismissed from his job as a Garda policeman.
After finding out about the affair, Tony had been extremely judgmental of both men, and he continues to hold extreme prejudice against Val. It is almost like Tony held Val responsible for all that had happened to his brother. Later on in Barber, Eddie actually returns to Dublin and then visits Val at his office. The reunion between the two past lovers now remains restricted as friends, and it is heartwarming to see them in a changed world where queers have their rights as well. Eddie apologizes to Val for having suddenly left him and the city, and he also admits that now that he has accepted himself for who he is, all problems of alcohol addiction have also been solved.
Despite this issue being ironed out, though, senior police officer Tony Quinn still remains extremely against Val. There is, of course, a professional rivalry in the matter as well, for Val is a private detective who is positioned against the police force, but Tony hates the man on a personal level as well. Now that Val is divorced, he often goes out with men and women, trying his luck in love, and is seen having an affair with a man. But this man is actually married and also has a kid, all of which he hides from Val and pretends to be single. It is Tony who follows this man and photographs him with his family, then shows the photos to Val and hurts him. Tony desperately wants Val to stay away from the Sara Dunne disappearance case, and this is his tactic to defeat the detective.
By the end of Barber, though, Val Barber’s personal life seems genuinely sorted out. He apologizes to Kate as well, and the daughter reveals that she had overheard her mother and stepfather talk about Val’s sexuality. Kate is obviously a child of a much more accepting world, and her relationship with Val and also with her own internal struggles have now started to heal. Through his investigation, Val had also earlier met a singer named Lexie Finnegan, who happened to be Patrick O’Neill’s mistress. By the end, when Lexie decides to leave Patrick, she gets involved with Val, and the two seem to be together for the time being.
What was the secret behind Sara Dunne’s disappearance?
Val’s first job after being hired to find Sara Dunne is to track down the stepfather, Patrick O’Neill, and talk to him. This does not work out since the man does not respond to the detective’s calls or messages, and Val learns from a police friend that O’Neill has told the Garda police that his daughter must have just run away. Sara had earlier left home too, when she was just fifteen, and O’Neill claimed that she always had such an attitude. Next, Val tracks down the girl’s best friend, Jane, to discuss the matter with her. He learns that the two girls had fought some six months ago, following which they did not talk to each other. The fight was regarding Sara getting involved with Jane’s boyfriend, which also hurt Sara’s erstwhile boyfriend, Cian Kelly. The detective meets Cian as well to find any information about his ex-girlfriend, but there is none to find. He also finds out that Sara had once called Jane during the lockdown, but when the latter called back, the woman had not responded.
Ultimately, though, the plot lines regarding the friend and the ex-boyfriend turn out to be false leads, as Sara’s disappearance is not related to these characters at all. Instead, her disappearance is linked to the important #MeToo movement, which still had a massive presence on online platforms. The mystery is linked to a particular man of the vilest character, Eunan Brady. A rich and influential businessman throughout most of his life, Brady had recently joined the world of politics after having committed some horrid acts with young women who had been his employees. Some years ago, a young woman named Eliza Farrell complained to the police about a sexual harassment experience at her workplace.
At the age of just seventeen, Eliza had started working as an intern for Eunan Brady’s construction business when they first met. On one occasion, the elderly Brady exposed himself in front of the minor girl and engaged in self-pleasure, while the girl remained shocked and humiliated. She had complained to the police right after this, and when Brady tried the same act a second time, she warned him about the official complaint she had made. Very soon after this, a man came to her house and threatened her about how her father, also an employee of Brady, would lose his job and his respect in society if she pursued the matter with the law anymore. Out of fear, Eliza had retracted all her complaints, and there was no action taken against the businessman turned-minister.
The man who had threatened Eliza turns out to be an individual named Brendan West, and the man had also called Sara Dunne’s phone only sometime before it had been turned off and she had disappeared. Her phone had been found by Val inside her very room, neatly packed away, as if the woman herself had kept it stored away. When he asks the grandmother about this, she says that Sara had apparently tried to stay off her phone and social media for some time. Meeting with Jane again, Val also learned that Sara had actually faced sexual harassment when she was just fifteen, as some man had exposed himself in front of her and then masturbated on the spot. It was as an effect of this horrible experience that she had run away from the house, as her parents probably did not believe her or listen to her.
This harasser was, once again, the vile Eunan Brady, and he happened to have business ties with the equally pathetic Patrick O’Neill. The stepfather knew what had happened with Sara, but he had actively worked for Brady in trying to suppress the matter and keep the girl quiet about it. Both Brendan West and Patrick O’Neill are actually working for Eunan Brady at the moment, as is police officer Tony Quinn. This is why Tony wants Val to stay off the case, but ultimately, the detective manages to secretly record Tony’s conversations and also strikes fear in O’Neill’s mind that their dirty arrangement will now be exposed. Val fears that Sara Dunne had once again faced similar abuse, tried to protest against it, and had been harmed by the horrible men, but this is actually not the case.
Is Sara Dunne still alive?
Before Val Barber can take any further steps, though, he learns from the TV news that two women had brought up sexual harassment allegations against minister Eunan Brady, filing official complaints against the man. These two women happen to be Eliza Farrell and Sara Dunne, as the latter is indeed alive and well. In reality, Sara had actually run away from her stepfather’s house to take shelter at her grandmother’s place. When Lily Dunne approached the private detective, her granddaughter was safe at her own house, but the woman wanted Val to find out about Eunan Brady and expose his abusive side.
Lily knew that as part of his investigation, Val would come across more survivors who had been subjected to Brady’s lechery, and her intention was to convince them to join Sara and go public about their experiences. Because of this, Lily even kept tailing Val in her car, making the detective wonder whether the Garda police were keeping an eye on him. This plan had indeed worked out, for Lily had found out about Eliza, and she convinced the young women to file a complaint together.
During Barber‘s ending, Val had been successful in threatening O’Neill and Brendan West enough to scare them away from supporting Brady. As a result, the minister immediately resigns from his post, and this is considered at least a temporary success by Sara and Eliza. After having solved this case successfully, Val receives another call on his phone about another case in the last scene of Barber, making it clear that the man surely receives a new enthusiasm for his profession.