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Bloody Sunday

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Bloody Sunday

Starring: James Nesbitt, Nicholas Farrell
Director: Paul Greengrass
Rated: R
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: October 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Tim Pigott-Smith, Allan Gildea, Gerard McSorley, Simon Mann

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

What to do when a dramatic event takes place, one that changes the makeup of a social system, and no one is around to film the action? Paul Greenglass, who both directed and scripted "Bloody Sunday," would porbably like to have filmed the events of one tragic day in January of 1972 but, actual film footage being absent, he did a remarkable job of creating a docu-drama of an occurrence which has been all but forgotten outside the borders of Northern Ireland. With cinematographer Ivan Strasburg training his lens on a few streets in the town of Derry, N. Ireland, "Bloody Sunday" is such a vivid re-creation of that fateful day, camera zigging and zagging with lightning speed during the climactic moments of the demonstration, that we could swear that we're watching a documentary; even better, a doc without egotistical talking heads and an intrusive soundtrack to take away from the seriousness of the bloodshed.

"Bloody Sunday" assumes that members of the audience have at least a marginal knowledge of the troubles faced in that corner of the world, when two Irish counties were separated by agreement from the rest of that verdant land and remained attached to the mother country of Great Britain. Despite decades of radical activity by the Irish Republic Army to wrest control from British hands, Northern Ireland which is about 2/3 Protestant and 1/3 Catholic remains a colony (if you listen to the Catholics) and an integral part of Great Britain (as most Protestant will tell you.)

Though some critics have called the movie an even-handed depiction of events of the fateful day when Irish protesters came up against the British army, Greenglass has no such intent. The filmmaker present the predominantly Catholic group as peaceful marchers whom the British could have ignored altogether since, after all, Catholics were not taking arms against the hated soldiers. Instead the British blockaded the streets of the anticipated demonstration and, when faced with the hurling of stones at first used the water hose to disperse the marchers, then their rubber bullets, and finally inexplicably, live ammunition. Not only do the British kill thirteen Irish but in one instance they shoot a man point blank who was already lying the ground and another who was waving a white flag. No weapons were found on any of the dead.

The central figure of the story is a Protestant member of Parliament who is highly respected by the Catholics of the district he represents. Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), a firebrand who nonetheless cites as his heroes Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and who insists not only that weapons be banned at the demonstration but that even stone-throwing would not be tolerated, is at first disappointed when a group of young people called "hooligans" by the British break away from the main sector of the crowd and begin pelting the troops with stones. The British, fearing that a successful march will embolden the radical elements of the I.R.A., are determined to assert their dominance and ultimately resort to the use of live ammunition, firing even after the commander orders a cease-fire. A press conference held under the auspices of the Northern Ireland Civil Right Association, condemns the butchery while the British go through a predictable whitewash.

In many cases the English language becomes difficult to decipher (though no nearly as much as Scottish dialects which sometimes use English subtitles for an American audience), but we at no time are at a loss in appreciating the emotions of the crowd once the bullets begin flying. Since the I.R.A., which some people believe was dying out as a force against the British, had young people lining up to join after the flat-out murder by British troops, some in the audience might compare the bloody day with events in the Middle East where allegedly Palestinian Chairman Arafat, recently losing his stature, gained the status of a martyr by a series of attacks against him by Israeli forces.

This movie might remind the movie buff of one opening at about the same time, "Das Experiment," in which an experiment is set up with one group assigned to be prisoners and another to be guards. As the prisoners begin annoying the guards, the latter begin to hit back until soon the guards, who are holding the cards, commit to violence far beyond what is needed to control their prisoners. Similarly, history buffs will recall Red Sunday in Russia when a group of citizens marching peacefully in 1905 were mowed down by the Russian forces, eventually leading to full- scale revolt twelve years later. "Bloody Sunday" is a visceral drama with universal relevance, a warning to government forces today as then to act with restraint lest they be hoist with their own petard.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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