Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Five Minutes of Heaven

Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2009 (8.4*)
Sundance Awards for directing and screenplay.

Based on a true story of the troubles in Northern Ireland. A Protestant worker is ordered to leave a shipyard in Lurgan by Catholics. In retaliation, a teenage gang of four, members of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) orders a Catholic to leave, a man named Griffin. The youths decide to kill him, even though he’s scheduled to leave the yard anyway in just a week.

When they show up at Griffin’s house, unknown to them, the senior Griffin has left the house, but his eldest son is watching tv in the living room, while his younger brother is kicking a soccer ball on the sidewalk out front. The masked hitman, Alistair Little, approaches, looks at the kid on the street staring at him, an image which will haunt him later, and still shoots his brother through the front window and kills him. Nine year old Joe Griffin not only witnesses the attack from just a few feet away, powerless to do anything, but his own mother blames him for not stopping the killing. Both his parents die soon afterwards, neither recovering from the loss of their oldest son.

Thirty-three years later, after serving a 12-year prison term, Little and Griffin are approached by a documentary television show, who sets up a meeting between the two men. Veteran star Liam Neeson plays Little as an adult, who is now a successful politician in Belfast. Griffin is an embittered man still living in the same town of Lurgan, though now he’s married and has two beautiful girls. Due to losing his entire family over the killing, Griffin has never forgiven Little, and wants, as he puts it, just "five minutes of heaven", when he can confront Little face-to-face and kill him.

James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday) steals this film as Joe Griffin. Even though he’s now married with two children, years of torment and anguish are etched on his face in nearly every scene. He makes the audience feel his pain on a visceral level, without ever giving a false note – one feels that Nesbitt himself has gone through something similar in his own life. He steals the acting kudos from Oscar®-winner Liam Neeson in this small film produced by the BBC for television. In all honesty, he has the far meatier role, as a contrite Alistair Little seems almost resigned to giving Griffin the chance he needs for vengance. It’s a crime that Nesbitt wasn’t nominated for both a BAFTA and an Oscar® for best actor, it’s one of the best performances of the last decade.

Nesbitt with one of his 7 acting awards –
he won 3 for Cold Feet (1997),
and two for Bloody Sunday (2002)

This film deserves a far better rating than the 6.7 given at IMDB (by only 6,000 viewers). More people should watch this film, and all the other good films on 'the trouble' in Northern Ireland. There are excellent films on this subject, notably Bloody Sunday (2002), the Cannes Palm d’Or winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), and for PBS, both Naming the Names (which remembers the victims of Bloody Sunday) and Frontline: Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Fein. Probably the first great film on this subject is John Ford’s classic, The Informer (1935), for which Victor McLaglen was awarded the Oscar for best actor.

Not being from Great Britain, those of us in the U.S., and probably the rest of the world, need to see the films on this subject so we can better understand the history of violence and repression there.


amelie January 31, 2012 at 3:59 PM  

You are doing what is every reviewer's dream come true now, I guess- being on Sundance and watching all the best pictures, most unfortunately remaining Sundance films only for the festival audience. I'm a big fan of Bloody Sunday and I didn't hear about this film but after reading your review, I'll do my best to see it. Thanks!

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