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.