Thursday, July 8, 2010

Think you got troubles?

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009) might be an interesting companion piece to Invictus, dealing as it does with reconciliation after a history of violence. Where Invictus is on the grand scale, Five Minutes is a chamber piece, with only two real characters.

The film falls into three distinct "chunks." The first part depicts an actual act of violence during the Troubles in Belfast. If you really want to see a film about this episode, see Bloody Sunday directed by Paul Greengrass, and also starring James Nesbitt. The opening sequence of street violence in Five Minutes is well-executed, but not groundbreaking.

The second sequence, which revolves around a planned televised meeting between the killer and the younger brother of the victim, who witnessed the killing as a child, sounded at first as if it wanted to be a play--two men in a room, having a confrontation, probably primarily in words. And then Five Minutes demonstrated something that film does that theater can't do as well. It shows a confrontation that didn't happen. Liam Neeson plays the former killer, who has been released from prison and is now engaged in various acts of public healing, and clearly carries the guilt of his acts. James Nesbitt is the younger brother, who plans to revenge his brother on television by stabbing Liam Neeson. (The enjoyment of that constitutes Nesbitt's "five minutes of heaven.") But then, after considerable well-executed suspense as to whether the encounter will happen, Nesbitt walks away. This sequence boasts some bravura use of the wide lens and a video aesthetic to convey a sense of actuality.

The third act is perplexing but the most plausible. They do at last meet in a strange, thwarted yet violent confrontation that, in time, exorcises Nesbitt's ghosts.

The revelation here is Nesbitt, who is brilliant in a role 180 degrees from his peacemaker role in Bloody Sunday. Neeson is required to play straight man to him, and given that his presence in the film was probably the factor that assured its distribution, if not actual production, his self-effacing work is admirable. Similarly admirable is the lack of pat conclusions, except that the experience in Northern Ireland has lessons in every place where young man are recruited to enforce group differences through violence.

The film is accused of failing as a document about the Troubles, but that is not its intention. It is a character study, specifically about healing from a terrible hurt, and as such, given two superb performances, it is a small gem.

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