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''Bloody Sunday'' a sensation

Posted on Friday, January 25 @ 10:45:59 CET by Macphisto
-----------------------------------------------

(Reuters) -- Bloody Sunday (Historical drama, Ireland-U.K., color, no rating, 1:47)

By Scott Foundas

PARK CITY, Utah (Variety) - The fact that 27 people were shot, 13 fatally, on what became known as Bloody Sunday (or rather, Ireland's second Bloody Sunday, following the Croke Park massacre of 1920) may seem a pittance compared to the more than 3,000 who have died during the conflict in Northern Ireland.

But this one day, seared into the consciousness of multiple generations via harrowing newsreel footage and a U2 song, remains a keystone event and, approaching its 30th anniversary, one of Irish history's great unhealed wounds.

Writer-director Paul Greengrass' ``Bloody Sunday'' is born out of this scabbed-over sensibility, and it is a stunning work, revisiting controversial events with journalistic objectivity and a meticulous eye for detail. Pic reps a huge advance for Greengrass over the treacly ``The Theory of Flight,'' as he's hit upon a subject of real passion and meaning and has created, in the process, a film of enormous power that, particularly in the current global political climate, demands to be seen.

Acquired for North America by Paramount Classics at Sundance, where it was co-winner of the fest's World Cinema Audience Award, pic aired on Britain's ITV on Jan. 20, with token U.K. theatrical release to follow.

On Jan. 30, 1972, a group of citizens in the Northern Ireland town of Derry were set to march in protest of the internment without trial of Irish Catholics by Protestant authorities. Tipped off to the planned demonstration, and eager to make a counterrevolutionary point with a large number of arrests, thousands of military troops moved in on Derry's streets. The peaceful protest ensued, as did the firing of much tear gas and rubber bullets. And when rubber bullets weren't enough, they were replaced by lead. (Despite hundreds of civilian affidavits, no military personnel were convicted of wrongdoing in the Bloody Sunday events, and the entire case is currently the subject of a new government inquiry.) In the film, however, Greengrass keeps finger-pointing to a minimum.

Following a brief prologue, pic transports viewers to the morning of the fateful day and begins mapping out, with a furious zeal, the city of Derry and the lives of the people who will become key players. Initially, it's a bit difficult to follow the film's zigzag brushstrokes, which jump between major points of action with superfast fades. Pic follows the civil rights leader Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt) as he assembles the march and tries to keep the IRA at bay. Cut to Gerry Donaghy, just out of prison and eager to rejoin the struggle for Catholic rights. Cut again to the commander of ground forces in Northern Ireland, General Robert Ford (Tim Pigott-Smith), along with Brigadier Patrick Maclellan (Nicholas Farrell), heading up a military nerve center designed to suppress protest. Cut back to the troops on the ground.

Once one has adjusted to the cuts, Greengrass' technique becomes utterly gripping. His chief effect is that of carefully-controlled unpredictability: On the one hand, he duplicates, with Zapruder exactitude, key images of the day (like Father Edward Daly, crouching over the wounded, waving a white handkerchief); on the other hand, he captures multiple events occurring simultaneously within a single shot, segueing between them with an Altman-like spontaneity.

Film also displays a ferocious appetite for geography, immersing the viewerin the lay of the land -- the bleak high hills sluicing down to the city center -- and the planned march route, so that when things begin to go haywire, one rarely lacks a fixed sense of where things are.

Most impressive, though, is Greengrass' staging of the 40 minutes or so of uninterrupted combat that occurs at the center of the film, when the clash between the protesters and the authorities reaches its climax. The violence here is graphic and pungent and jolts the viewer, unlike most war movies' desensitization to carnage. It is realism so heightened that it makes ``Bloody Sunday'' one of the few movies deserving of the oft-misappropriated qualifier, ``documentary-like.''

``Bloody Sunday'' shares a kind of aesthetic sisterhood with Ridley Scott's ``Black Hawk Down,'' a point of comparison apt to be seized upon by the media: Both are antiwar movies that convey their messages through a straightforward accounting of war. But whereas Scott gives us a very CNN-era approach, distancing us from the action with carefully composed sequences, Greengrass is working closer to the Vietnam-era footage taken by cameramen soldiering along in the trenches.

And ``Bloody Sunday'' is the better film; the camera drops imperceptibly into the background, observing performances that seem caught by chance, unawares. Nesbitt (best known for the sitcom ``Cold Feet'') is particularly remarkable, his absorption into the character of stoic, noble crusader complete. His final, lip-quivering breakdown is quietly devastating.

Greengrass's script does a superb job of fleshing out the politics before unloading the thick frenzy of violence. And if there's a certain hesitation in approaching another film about ``the Troubles,'' given the extent to which the Sheridan brothers alone (Jim is an exec producer of this pic) have almost exhausted the subject, Greengrass quickly allays that fear with his distinctly metaphorical approach; pic's stance allows it to resonate into all the ethnic-religious-political divides carrying on in the world today.

Tech contributions are uniformly superb, particularly Ivan Strasburg's amazingly agile lensing, and pic has a big look that far outsizes its budget of 3 million pounds ($4.3 million) -- which, it is worth noting, was co-financed equally between British and Irish interests.

Another film on the same subject, simply called ``Sunday,'' written by Jimmy McGovern, will be broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 on Jan. 28.

Ivan Cooper ........... James Nesbitt

Major General Ford .... Tim Pigott-Smith

Brigadier Maclellan ... Nicholas Farrell

Chief Supt. Lagan ..... Gerard McSorley

Frances ............... Kathy Kiera Clarke

Kevin McCorry ......... Allan Gildea

Eamonn McCann ......... Gerard Crossan

Bernadette Devlin ..... Mary Moulds

Bridget Bond .......... Carmel McCallion

Gerry Donaghy ......... Declan Duddy

A Paramount Classics (in U.S.) release of a Portman Film presentation in association with Granada, the Film Council and the Irish Film Board of a Granada Film/Hell's Kitchen production. (International sales: Portman Film, London.) Produced by Mark Redhead. Executive producers, Pippa Cross, Arthur Lappin, Jim Sheridan, Rod Stoneman, Paul Trijbits, Tristin Whalley. Co-producers, Don Mullan, Paul Myler.

Directed, written by Paul Greengrass, based on ``Eyewitness Bloody Sunday'' by Don Mullan. Camera (color), Ivan Strasburg; editor, Clare Douglas; music, Dominic Muldoon; production designer, John Paul Kelly; art director, Padraig O'Neill; costume designer, Dinah Collin; sound (Dolby Digital), Albert Bailey; supervising sound editor, Danny Longhurst; special effects coordinator, Maurice Foley; stunt coordinator, Pat Condren; military advisers, Rhidian Bridge, Simon Mann, Colin Coull; assistant director, Luke Johnston; casting, John Hubbard, Ros Hubbard. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (news - web sites) (World Cinema), Jan. 16, 2002. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- competing.)

Reuters/Variety REUTERS

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