The historian Tim Pat Coogan wrote that the difficulty in resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland lies in the fact that both sides perceived themselves to be an oppressed minority surrounded by a hostile majority, and that both sides were right. It depends, in other words, on how the situation is framed, which sooner or later brings most movies about the Troubles crashing to earth. For all its arthouse rigor, Hunger ultimately sanctifies the suffering of the occupied, and In The Name Of The Father is an accomplished jingoist tract.
Inspired by the sectarian murder of a Catholic dockworker in 1975, Five Minutes Of Heaven belongs, along with Nothing Personal and Breakfast On Pluto, to the rare class of movies that try to encompass both sides of the conflict. The movie’s first section follows fact. Sixteen-year-old Alistair Little, his face still spotted with pimples, removes a revolver from its hiding place in a bag of Legos and gathers a group of young, scared-looking followers as they prepare to gun down 19-year-old Jim Griffin (Gerard Jordan). Jim’s younger brother, Joe kicks a soccer ball in the street and watches blankly as a balaclava-clad man emerges from a stolen car and puts three bullets in his brother’s head.
What follows is the invention of screenwriter Guy Hibbert (Omagh): An imagined meeting between the adult Alistair (Liam Neeson), now a specialist in helping the perpetrators of sectarian violence confront their crimes, and the jumpy, traumatized Joe (James Nesbitt), who grew up being blamed for not stopping his brother’s killing. Their confrontation is to take place under the aegis of a television program whose producers are pushing for on-air closure, but Joe only has retribution on his mind, a few minutes of satisfaction to balance out a lifetime of sorrow.
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) films the proceedings with a minimum of fuss, and without the leaden tendentiousness that made his tour in the Führerbunker such a slog. But the movie is light on insight, and its middle section feels distended, padded out to bring it up to feature length. Hirschbiegel fails to discipline his English-speaking cast, allowing Nesbitt so much rein with his caffeinated performance that sympathies shift to Neeson’s comparatively sanguine murderer. Perhaps it’s because Alistair, who unreservedly owns up to the thrill he felt when he pulled the trigger, is the most sharply drawn and atypical of the two. In their few scenes together, Anamaria Marinca’s Russian gofer takes the edge off Nesbitt’s jitters, but too often, he’s left to twist in the wind.