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Based on Martin McGartland's shocking real life story. Martin is a young lad from west Belfast in the late 1980s who is recruited by the British Police to spy on the IRA. He works his way up the ranks as a volunteer for the IRA whilst feeding information to his British handler and saving lives in the process. Written by
When Marty is driving the taxi at night in the early part of the film a car can clearly be seen in front of his. This is supposed to be set in 1988 yet the car in front is a Ford which dates 2006 at least. See more »
His name is Martin McGartland, and when I met him he was an unemployed Catholic hood selling stolen goods.
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As with any film on Northern Ireland it is good to see the message board full of debate about who the "good guys" were in Northern Ireland, who was in the right, who was in the wrong etc etc with occasionally someone talking about the film. I'll leave all of that to those guys but, as one has to do with these films for some reason, I will lay out my colours for all to see. Although I moved away around age 20, I was born in Belfast and grew up as a Protestant in North Antrim. I don't think I brought any of that to this film but for some that will be enough to explain why I didn't like this film.
Actually, it will probably be enough for viewers from both side of that political spectrum because the film manages to be such a thing that it is possible to side with both the IRA and the police/army. To a certain point this is a good thing because it asks you to sympathise/dislike both groups, which is true I guess because in the conflict nobody is 100% right or wrong both sides have fundamental points but yet have done so much wrong as to make them a distant memory. However, this is only "to a point" because it doesn't strike me as a deliberate thing so much as it is a side-effect of the film not really getting to the heart of the matter or the characters. The Northern Ireland of the film is secondary to the central "Donnie Brasco-esquire" story, which again is not a problem in and of itself, just that you're not used to that with Northern Irish films, but it does cause a problem because by not doing a good job of laying out a convincing base, the film does feel a little superficial.
This is made more evident by the way it is directed but also the way that accuracy is often set aside in favour of having set pieces and action. Such sequences don't really work and stand out awkwardly as being out of place and not belonging in a film set in this time and place it is not as bad as The Devil's Own in this regard but you get my point. All this aside though, the film should work in the same way Donnie Brasco did because I didn't come to that film moaning about the lack of convincing mob detail etc etc but rather really enjoyed it as a film. Sadly the things that this film should be taking from Donnie Brasco and repeating are lacking. This problem comes from the material because it doesn't engage as it should and the characters, beyond Lara, don't do that much. To be precise what I felt was missing was key relationships for Martin. His relationship with his handler isn't that good in their shared scenes, while he lacks a "Lefty" in the IRA. This takes away the majority of the opportunities for scenes in which the strain comes through and we get to see conflicting sides of Martin, like we did in Donnie Brasco, and this is a shame because it does mean the film loses a lot.
It is still a solid watch though, so don't take my negativity as a sign that it was awful just that it seemed to miss a lot of what it could and should have been doing. It is all helped a lot though by Sturgess in the lead. Now part of me wonders why more actual Northern Irish actors couldn't have been used at that level but Sturgess does do a good job and clearly could have done more with better and more complex material. Funnily enough Kingsley is part of the problem. He is far too stiff and too clearly "acting" he prevents much in the way of chemistry and does nothing to tell us how he was able to reach Martin. The supporting cast do their turns reasonably well but only Press really stands out as she brings a bit of emotion and discussion to the film.
Overall Fifty Dead Men Walking is more about what it is not rather than what it is. As a film set in the troubles, it doesn't do a particularly good job depicting them. As a thriller it doesn't manage to be engaging enough to thrill. As a Donnie Brasco type story set in Northern Ireland (which is what it is) it doesn't do the things that made that film successful. It is still OK in most regards but it never really becomes the film it should have been.
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