A work of art hasn't made me this angry since I read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
; I left the theater in blind rage at the injustice of it all. Agitprop in the best sense of the word, the film played me like a well-plucked guitar, striking the right chords with my leftist tendencies, Republican sympathies (Irish Republican sympathies that is), and general disappointment with the outcome of the midterm election (though I don't know why I should be so disappointed, Bill Clinton finished the job of selling-out the liberal wing of the Democratic party, and how much does it really matter anymore, we live under a hopelessly corrupt, corporate plutocracy, I mean, the federal government and the media is preparing to crucify Martha Stewart for the relatively benign crime of insider trading, but Kenneth Lay walks around without even an indictment; only a few politicians left have any real integrity, and one of them died last week in a plane crash, even my Congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin, the only openly gay woman in Congress, is beholden to the truckloads of money from out of state that keep her competitive outside of the Madison city limits). But I also saw the darker, current parallels with the situation in Israel, and the probable, nightmarish future of the US, post-next major terrorist attack (looking into the future what do I see: Muslim citizens should probably kiss their civil rights away, the possible repeal of Posse Comitatus, the return of something like the Sedition Act; why not stuff like this always crops up during wartime, and that's where we are heading, a state of perpetual warfare and occupation). Well, enough with my crazy political rant, this is starting to sound like a real blog post!
is a chilling recreation of the eponymous events in the Bogside in 1972; it's a docudrama in the best sense of the word, fusing the distinct possiblities of documentary cinema (the sense of immediacy) with narrative cinema (unfettered access). You sit there waiting, watching the episodic narrative unfold, waiting for the inevitable, bloody events; it's something of handicap for an artwork to overcome, especially artworks rooted in well-known historical narratives, where the outcome is already well-known. Michael Mann's Ali
, while somewhat interesting, failed in this regard, there was no real sense of suspense during the fore-ordained outcome, because it did not real focus on the details and failed to establish any real connection with the characters (I admired Will Smith and Jon Voight's performances, but I wasn't particularly moved by them). Details, details, detail, and great performances are key to making these types of films work (also pacing, that always helps). Personally, I haven't really sat watching a movie or TV show with this kind of pit in my stomach since I re-watched a Buffy the Vampire Slayer
episode called "Seeing Red," waiting for the inevitable, tragic conclusion.
The film is probably the most notable for it's style, simulating a cinema-verite type documentary, especially one made with during that era on 16mm film (the film has a relatively grainy, washed out look) with that strange, sound quality reminiscent of that one sound-guy with the Nagra and shotgun mike, trailing behind the camera man who's constantly bouncing the camera around, zooming in, changing focus, and panning about. The film even adapts a documentary-like narrative technique, with the frequent cuts to and from black, as if the footage was cobbled together out of a much larger shooting ratio. The film focuses in on a few characters over a 24 hour span, as the march organizers, led by Protestant civil rights advocate, and MP, Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt, in a terrific performance), try to plan and orchestrate their peaceful civil rights march, and act paralleled by the equally concerted attempts by the British authorities to thwart any possible protest against Unionist rule, as well as prevent, or is it avenge, a recent upsurge in British casualties (though the Brigadier whose actually in charge of the operation, seems none to pleased with his appointed task, especially with the priggish Major General breathing down his neck). While most of the film focuses on the behind the leadership of the two sides, the director Paul Greengrass, also takes his camera into the frontlines, focusing on the young, unnecessarily foolish, angry Catholic men on one-side, and the rather gung-ho, Paras on the other side (one point, when has it ever been a good idea to task professional soldiers with law enforcement duties? When is a rock, which can cause, what a big gash or concussion to the heavily armed, and armored soldiers, ever an equal trade-off with a 7.62mm bullet?). In particular, the film focuses on one of the Bloody Sunday victims, a man recently out of jail with a Protestant girlfriend, as well as an British private who is more than a little ambivalent about his regiment's entire sense of purpose in Northern Ireland (other than the Brigadier, who rapidly loses control of the situation on the ground from the insulation of his CP, like the American general in Blackhawk Down
, though this clusterfuck is hardly the time or place for a revisionist rah-rah celebration, he is the only really sympathetic British character in the film, I can of even felt sorry for him during the initial inquiry, as he hesitates, before ultimately caving in).
Greengrass is clearly sympathetic to the marcher's version of events, which is pretty easy to do, considering the fact that 13 unarmed civilians were gunned down in the street, but he at least attempts to convey the rapid deteriotation of the situation from the British point of view, the reign of confusion, with small groups of Paras, armed with assault rifles, effectively seperated from each other and their commanders (who outright blundered by being so confrontational, and who, like several of the Paras, should be brought up on war crimes charges; let's hope the Saville inquiry actually does it's job), and left to their own devices, began shooting indiscriminately (one superior officer ruefully noted that the most gung-ho of the Paras managed to discharge 22 rounds, more than that superior even issued to him). We even get glimpses of two of the marchers actually pulling guns, one with a rifle, the other with a pistol, that he even manages to shoot at the Paras before being wrestled to the ground by the other marchers. Of course, the army spin is patently ridiculous, and it would be no surprise to me if they actually did resort to planting charges on the dead bodies as part of a cover-up (you know, mass murder looks bad).
One final topic, James Nesbitt's performance is key to the film. A Protestant who realizes how unfair the British treatment of the Catholic minority is, and is willing to do something about it. An idealist who cites the example of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he's also a consummate glad-hander politican, affable, seemingly knowing everyone in the Bogside by name, pressing the flesh, making good-hearted jokes at his own expense, interceding on other's behalf. He's a whirlwind of committed energy. I empathized with his character with his characters plight, how the events of Bloody Sunday absolutely crushed him, leaving him dazed, bitter, and angry. He's right, if I had been in Northern Ireland at that time too, I would have probably joined the lads in line also.