Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

It's a bit late but I went to see The Wind That Shakes the Barley at the weekend. I have to say that while I quite enjoyed it at times it seems a bit stunted and narrowly focused.

Cillian Murphy is very good in his role as Damien, the central character. Damien is a doctor about to emigrate to London to start a new job but the Irish War of Independence gets in the way. Here is the first point that the movie seemed to not quite click with me. Damien changes his mind a little easily. A couple of run ins with the British army and he gives up his plans to leave. His decision seems to boil down to whether or not he can get on a particular train. So starts Damien's career in the West Cork IRA. Damien's brother Teddy, played by Padraic Delaney, is the leader of the column but their time on screen together never really makes their relationship seem close, Damien even mentions that they spent a lot of time apart. This takes something from later events when the civil war starts, they could as easily have been long time friends instead of brothers.

While a lot of actors are recognizable from Irish television the movie appears to use a lot of local talent as extras. This works at times when they get into the flow of the scene, but sometimes they deliver their lines like a kid who has just walked on stage during the school panto to repeat the one line he has spent the last two months practicing in front of his proud parents. That is my biggest complaint about this movie as I found it very distracting at times. A big part of me feels that I'm being cruel, so I'll be nice for the rest of the review.

The movie looks lovely. This is old rural West Cork. Everything looks like they stole it from the cabinets in the Collins Barracks museum exhibition of old country furniture. The table and chairs are not Georgian, they were made by the carpenter down the road. The roof thatch is gray and old, not yellow and just put on by the set designers. The clothes are used and worn not straight out of the tailors. The roads are bumpy and over grown not nicely trimmed tourist trails. This is not Michael Collins cycling around Dublin streets leading an intelligence war against an Empire, this is Dan Breen running around boggy mountain tops shooting at convoys of soldiers and scrounging ammunition and weapons off dead bodies.

They are fighting their own little war separate from Dublin but part of an overall effort. It would have been nice to get some more context of what was happening outside the area of the village, such as the burning of Cork city, especially at the end when a little explanation of the outcome of the War of Independence would have been useful for those unfamiliar with the Irish history. The fact that the republicans lost the Civil War but that the Irish Free State did become a Republic in 1949 would have added to the pointlessness of the losses during the Civil War scenes.

The roots of the Irish Civil war appear early on, but instead of basing them on the usual Republic V's Free State arguments the movie focused on the more Socialist vs Capitalist perspective. Something that rarely gets a mention in todays history but something that may still be around in the policies of Sinn Fein. The story was pretty much what I expected, though the end of the movie did take me a little by surprise. Not that I was surprised by the outcome, just how it happened.

All in all I think it was a good movie. I don't see it doing well at the Oscars or any Hollywood awards ceremony, the edges are a little rough for the taste of most Hollywood stars. It did win the Palme D'Or at Cannes so it has had more critical success than most big budget movies ever see. I think all the criticisms I've had so far are really quite minor and I did enjoy the movie so I'll give it a 4 out of 5 and I'll buy it on DVD when it's released.


James said...

The narrow focus is one of the best things about the film in my opinion. I don't know what you mean by calling it stunted - unless every war film ever made is stunted by not giving a 10 hour version of the full history. Focusing specifically on this one village, characters only from this one village, and very little mention of the burning of Cork or anything was realistic way of telling the story. News of the hunger strikers, and Michael Collins filtered in, but the reality is that your ordinary soldier in the back of beyond had no idea of what it was like in the streets of Cork or Dublin and it didn't directly affect him either.

I didn't see a lot of actors from Irish television... aside from established film actors Cilian Murphy and Liam Cunningham, only the English landlord was familiar to me but not from Irish TV. I think its a great credit to Loach that he didn't just drag out the usual Fair City / Glenroe cast and throw in a few Brendan Gleesons and Sean McGinleys like everyone else does. I agree that the use of local actors backfired slightly once or twice - namely Chris the traitor and the little boy on the bicycle, but overall it brought authenticity, especially to scenes like the hurling match at the start.

Declan said...

by stunted I mean some of the scenes seem to get cut short. like the scene where Damien is in the prison cell with the soldier. Also the one with the officer. They felt like they were meant to be longer but were edited down much shorter. For example I think Damien got a black eye from the young soldier who was ordered to "take care of him" (or something like that) but you never see the actual punches. Also the bit with the commanding officer breaking down when confronted by Damien. That happened really quickly. Its hard to put my finger on it, just seemed to jump a little in places.

The locals as extras did add something, but the cases you pointed out are good examples of it backfiring.

I would have thought the Cork burning would have been mentioned since they were supposed to be in Cork county (I think). I'm not saying they should have shown the events, just mention them a little more. Though I was probably just expecting something a little different when I went in and so missed it on the first watching. I'm sure I wont feel that way in the second watching.

I thought I recognised a few faces, no "A-List" RTE people. Real actors who pop up in things from time to time.