This award-winning film from Ken Loach about the war for Irish independence is something of a companion piece to LAND AND FREEDOM/’95, his far superior (if underappreciated) film on the Spanish Civil War. We follow two brothers in the IRA, a natural warrior & an unwilling campaigner, through a series of escalating horrors. By the time a peace treaty is worked out, the reluctant revolutionary has been radicalized by British atrocities (and thru his own horrific acts of counter-terrorism) into zealotry while his older brother finds he can live with the compromises of political necessity. Loach wheels out the usual Irish trinity of drunkenness, religion & pig-headed pride, and adds an additional wartime trinity of torture, tit-for-tat violence & loyalty tests. But for all the noise, fury & harshly beautiful landscapes, the film feels emotionally inert, probably because Cillian Murphy’s unlikely patriot doesn’t hold on to ‘the cause’ out of principle, but as a sop to assuage his guilty feelings. Putting the Irish ‘troubles’ on an over-sized psychiatrist’s couch is an interesting thought, but not, I think, what Loach had in mind. If you can deal with the slickness and a miscast Julia Roberts, you might want to try Neil Jordan’s MICHAEL COLLINS/’96 which has great things in it, especially the stunning perfs from Liam Neesom, Alan Rickman & Stephen Rea.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: From certain angels, Cillian Murphy looks strikingly like Sissy Spacek. Most disconcerting.