Bloody Sunday

-

Bloody Sunday

On Jan. 30, 1972, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, 13 Irish civil-rights activists were killed (and many more injured) when British soldiers opened fire on a peace demonstration that had turned unruly. From the opening minutes, the sick dread of inevitability hangs over director Paul Greengrass' emotionally charged re-creation Bloody Sunday, as the two sides hold fast to their positions, refusing to swerve out of a game of chicken. The British authorities, acting on a decree to suppress all parades and processions—not to mention an underlying thirst to avenge its fallen soldiers—take a heavy-handed approach to breaking up the march; in response, the agitated demonstrators can only add to the chaos. (Only the audience seems to hear the most pragmatic officer ask the obvious question, "Why not let the march go ahead?") Greengrass' rigorous, you-are-there documentary style has earned the film comparison to Gillo Pontecorvo's masterpiece The Battle Of Algiers, which brought the French-Algerian conflict to life with stunning, unprecedented verisimilitude. At its best, Bloody Sunday produces the same chilling illusion of history writ large, clearly detailing the strategies of both sides, then blankly observing the conflict through unadorned, newsreel camera stock and the precise orchestration of large-scale chaos. Though Pontecorvo made his allegiance to the Algerians clear, some mistook his apparent even-handedness for objectivity, but there are no mixed sympathies for Greengrass, who barely entertains the military's spin machine. His renewed anger and grief over the tragedy is channeled through James Nesbitt's soulful performance as Ivan Cooper, the Protestant politician who was determined to lead a non-violent civil-rights march to the city square. As the day slips away from him, Nesbitt's sad transformation from glad-handing idealist to helpless onlooker gives the film a strong emotional center outside the larger sweep of history, another crucial distinction from The Battle Of Algiers. Too bad Greengrass hedges his bets by introducing cannon fodder in Declan Duddy, who plays the equivalent of the fresh-faced fly-boy with the pretty young wife and a baby on the way. Through Duddy, Greengrass wants to humanize the so-called "hooligans" who allegedly provoked the bloodbath, but his point of view would have been just as consistent (and more complicated) without this superfluous character. Bloody Sunday works better when it simply burrows the camera into the crowd and gets swept up in the fray, achieving a jagged, faux-vérité realism that's startling in its immediacy and power. No one in the British Army was disciplined for the massacre, but by animating the past, Greengrass assures that their aggression has not been forgotten.

More DVD Review