Review: FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING

The political situation of Ireland has proved fertile ground for an array of superb films that have engraved themselves on popular consciousness for depicting without mercy the pain, the hardship, the ideological commitment and the personal struggles involved in battle between the IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force, and the British Army; not to mention the general populace and the more reasonable political proponents of both loyalism and separatism. Strangely though, Fifty Dead Men Walking chooses not to follow in the traditions of its worthy filmic predecessors and instead goes the route of the recent terrorist dramas set in Iraq. Inspired by the true story of Martin McGartland, the film follows Martin (Jim Sturgess), a young lad from west Belfast in the late 1980s. A Catholic boy from an IRA controlled area, he doesn't have access to most jobs because a majority of businesses are controlled by the Protestants and makes a living selling stolen goods. However one day he comes in close contact with some IRA bigwigs, and no sooner have they talked of involving him in their operations than he is recruited by the British Police as a mole. Working up the ranks as an IRA volunteer, he continues to feed information to his British handler (Ben Kingsley) in the belief that he is saving lives. But he can't keep his position hidden forever, and with each step up the IRA ladder he is exposed to more and more brutal and morally ambiguous situations - from both sides. Whereas films such as Hunger depicted the extreme lengths people must go to in fighting for what they believe in, and The Wind That Shakes The Barley looks at the dark underbelly of an occupied land 50 Dead Men Walking seems more keen on showing the dangers involved in espionage and the difficult position of a man caught in the middle of a bloody conflict. A story familiar to those who have seen Traitor or Body of Lies, this is not a revolutionary film. But that is not to say it does not have its merits. As I mentioned in my Traitor review, the war on terror can provide great source material for a thriller, if deployed with sufficient sensitivity to avoid offense. Fifty Dead Men Walking attempts this with the Northern Ireland conflict, depicting the both the IRA and the British forces with equal measure of understanding of their goals and skepticism of their methods. This makes for great character tension around Martin. What's more, knowing that he is real and that real lives were at stake adds much more intensity to every operation he appears on, and every atrocity we witness, as we approach the nail-biting finale. There's the standard mix of family vs ideals, traditional loyalties vs new devlopments, and Ben Kingsley's Yorkshire accent occasionally sounds a bit odd, but by and large this is an exciting, relevant and well-rounded thriller/drama that is a fine alternative to and development from the Hollywood-produced war on terror movies. What's more it does not compromise too much of its sensitive source material. Fifty Dead Men Walking is out in the U.K. on Friday.

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Michael J Edwards hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.