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United Kingdom/Ireland 2009
Directed by
Oliver Hirschbiegel
89 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Five Minutes Of Heaven

Synopsis: In February, 1975 during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the seventeen year-old Protestant, Alistair Little (Liam Neeson) killed a Catholic youth, Jimmy Griffen, in front of the latter’s younger brother, Joe. Thirty-three years later, Alistair is trying to reconcile with Joe (James Nesbitt).

With his latest film Oliver Hirschbiegel, who gave us the masterful account of Hitler’s last days in Downfall (Der Untergang) (2004) delivers a gripping, economically-scaled fact-based story of internecine violence, both its immediate physical cost, shown in the skilfully-reconstructed account of Jimmy Griffin’s murder, and its psychological effects on the murderer and the victim’s brother who not only witnessed the act but was blamed by his mother for not saving his brother. It is a rightly intense film with James Nesbitt giving a brilliant performance as Joe, a working class guy with little education who still lives in his home town of Lurgan and on a daily basis struggles with the legacy of Alistair’s act and the rage for revenge he feels. As Alistair, Neeson, who grew up in Northern Ireland during the period, gives an understated but equally powerful performance as the now-wiser man haunted by an act of which he profoundly repents but cannot erase.

There are couple of reservations about the production. The film in its middle section, which deals with the aborted meeting of the two men on a television program, seems to be heading towards early Michael Haneke territory with its concern with modern modes of representation and their epistemological consequences. This perhaps is simply a reflection of Hirschbiegel’s own experience as a TV director but either way it feels a bit distracting. And in the final section the eventual confrontation between the two men is handled with an oddly conventional action movie punch-up that has a rather questionable outcome. Set these minor quibbles aside however and the remainder is powerful, purposeful drama. I cannot imagine it doing big business but if you feel like some serious, substantial cinema, Five Minutes Of Heaven will not disappoint.




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