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Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Fifty Dead Men Walking

Here I come with the second of my Troubles film reviews with Fifty Dead Men Walking. This time, instead of being a fictional story, what we have here is the true story of Martin McGartland, who joined the IRA and played off as a double agent, saving the lives of a number of people. Eventually he was found out by the IRA, and is still on the run from dissident republican terrorists. It is the kind of the story that surprises you that it hasn't already been made, for it is quite clearly material which would make for a good film. To start off with whats good about it, is that I believe that we have found a new film star in Jim Sturgess. In this film, his portrayal of McGartland is mesmerising, and it shows a great degree of maturity for such a young actor. He portrays the various aspects of the onscreen McGartland rather well, showing the different layers in each scene brilliantly. There are moments in the film which he acts well in which he is with the IRA, supposedly supporting their cause, and he inflects his performance with the subtle hints at what's underneath. The entire film, the onscreen McGartland is playing up an image, be it that with his wife, friends or the IRA. In each these scenes, the underlying guilt, sorrow and angst is consistently hinted at, and in my opinion I think that this is the first truly great performance of 2009. Also, Kari Skogland directs the film well, portraying Northern Ireland in the realistic fashion in which it deserves, coming off from her experiences of directing films such as Liberty Stands Still. It must be said also that this is a film with a rather solid script. It manages to get across the story of McGartland well, telling it with drama, humour and poignancy. Dialogue too for each of the characters is solidly written, particularly for Sturgess who makes the most of the meaty dialogue. Personally, I was quite impressed by the film, with it's portrayal of Northern Ireland spot on, Sturgess playing McGartland brilliantly, nailing the accent and mannerisms, with a solid script and strong direction. However, unfortunately, while being a good film, it is a rather flawed film nonetheless. To start, I don't mean to leech on, but I must say a few things about "Sir" Ben Kingsley. I know, a slight bias at the title, but "Sir" Ben is a good actor. His Don Logan is one of my favourite acting performances of the past ten years, and was recently ripped off by Ralph Fiennes for In Bruges. In this film, I believe that they could have gotten any veteran actor to fill the role of Fergus. I'm sorry, it's not that he's bad in this film. I just feel that if you are going to have a genuinely great actor be a part of your film, you should not waste their talents. The best thing that "Sir" Ben does is not acting in this film, letting Sturgess take the spotlight in his great performance, but it is still in my opinion a dissappointing and lacking performance. Also, now I did mention earlier that the portrayal of Northern Ireland is done well in this film, but it continues in that trend of "gritty, realistic, urban" manner of shooting which has essentially been ripped ever since Paul Greengrass used it for Bloody Sunday, the first proper "Troubles" film. Anyway, the point is if you are going to do it, use it well so that everything that is so "realistic" can be appreciated by the audience watching the film. With Fifty Dead Men Walking, you can barely see what's going on with the old shaky cam syndrome. I genuinely felt disorientated at a number of different stages in the film. Another problem that comes with this type of cinematography is that the editor's seem to go a bit crazy and start editing the film with what seems like a meat cleaver. It's like they've hired Michael Myers, starved him for a week, shown him a picture of Laurie Strode, and unleashed him on the footage of the film. Finally, despite all the positives regarding the film, the Hollywood presentation of Northern Ireland, while Skogland does her best, ends up being exaggerated and rather underwhelming, particularly for someone who lives here. No offence folks, but if you are going to do a location film, do your research. In conclusion, Fifty Dead Men Walking is a good film, with a superb lead performance by Jim Sturgess, a solid script and good direction, but proves to be undone by disappointing work by "Sir" Ben Kingsley, poor editing, disorientating cinematography and a rather underwhelming Hollywood cliche of a film, which makes the story seem much more basic than it is.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.7/10

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