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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Five Minutes of Heaven can be found here.
The movie begins in 1975 as a recap of how 17-year-old Alistair Little (Mark Ryder), a member of the mostly-Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) came to kill 19-year-old Catholic Jim Griffin (Gerard Jordan), a shooting that was witnessed by Jim's younger brother Joe (Kevin O'Neill). The story then leaps forward 33 years to present time. After serving 12 years in prison, Alistair (Liam Neeson) is taking part in a One On One program that is going to put him and Joe (James Nesbitt) together at River Finn Centre in an attempt to promote forgiveness and reconciliation.
The first part of the movie, set in 1975, is based on a true event. Seventeen-year-old Irish Loyalist Alistair Little actually did kill 19-year-old Catholic James Griffin, a shooting that was witnessed by Jim's younger brother Joe. However, the rest of the movie that deals with their meeting 33 years later is fictionalized. It asks the question, what would happen if the two got the chance to meet? Would they understand, forgive, or just want revenge?
Five Minutes of Heaven is based on a script by English screenwriter Guy Hibbert. However, Hibbert actually interviewed and worked separately with the real Alistair Little and Joe Griffin while writing the script. Little has also written a book, Give a Boy a Gun: One Man's Journey from Killing to Peace-Making (2009), based on his experiences during and since the killing.
As Joe is getting ready to meet with Alistair, he tells Vika (Anamaria Marinca) that killing Alistair would be "my five minutes of heaven," referring to the pleasure he would take in doing to Alistair what Alistair did to his brother.
Ulster is one of four provinces in Ireland, the others being Connaught, Leinster and Munster. It consists of the six counties from Northern Ireland and three from the Republic of Ireland (Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan). Due to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, it also has the connotation of simply referring to Northern Ireland.
The reason put forth in the movie is that some "Provies", that is, members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), working at Castle's Yard (a stonemasonry) had threatened to stiff a Protestant, so Alistair sent back a message telling them that a Catholic would be stiffed if they didn't withdraw the threat. They didn't withdraw the threat, so Alistair volunteered to kill a Catholic, and Jim Griffin's name came up. In the movie, Alistair's personal motive was that he wanted to feel like he was ten feet tall and to be cheered by his fellow gang members. The real Alistair Little had yet another motive—the father of one of his friends had been murdered by the IRA and his daughter shot in the legs. Little decided to kill a Catholic in retaliation.
From the 1960s into the 1990s, a period often referred to as The Troubles, was a time of conflict throughout all of Ireland but especially in Northern Ireland. Irish Catholics, also known as Nationalists or Republicans, wanted freedom from British rule while the mostly Protestant Unionists or Loyalists remained loyal to the crown. The result was three decades of conflict, hunger strikes, killings, and rioting between the two factions and various paramilitary groups, such as the IRA and UVF as mentioned in the movie. The conflict between North and South was politically ended by the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement, signed by both governments in April 1998, although some terrorist activity still persists.
"Tartan gangs" refers to groups of Protestant youths in Belfast and surrounding areas. Consisting mostly of teenagers during the time frame of this movie, the Tartan gangs engaged in activities to harass Catholics and vandalize their homes in loyalist neighborhoods. Tartan gangs often provided recruits for the more organized paramilitary groups, such as the UVF. Hence Alistair's comment, "I was 14 when I joined the Tartan Gangs, and I was 15 when I joined the UVF." The name comes from the wearing of tartan scarves that marked their identity with the groups.
Yes. Lurgan is situated about 18 miles (29 kilometers) southwest of Belfast. A map showing both Belfast and Lurgan can be viewed here.
Alistair sends a note to Joe telling him that he is in Lurgan and offers to meet with him if it's what Joe still wants. Joe's wife is dead set against the meeting, but Joe phones Alistair and agrees to meet at 37 Hill Street, the house where the killing took place. Alistair shows up to find the house in ruins. He walks through all the rooms looking for Joe, but Joe is nowhere in sight. Suddenly, Joe jumps out from behind a door and attempts to stab Alistair. They beat each other up until Alistair makes a leap at Joe, and they both go flying through a window, falling two stories to the pavement below, Alistair landing on top of Joe. Although they are both bruised and bloodied, Alistair manages to crawl away from Joe. Propping himself against a wall, Alistair explains his reason for killing Joe's brother, then tells him to go and live the rest of his life for his two daughters. Alistair limps away as Joe wordlessly trembles while trying to smoke a cigarette. Days pass. Joe attends a group meeting and attempts to explain how he wants his daughters to be proud of him, then breaks down in tears. Alistair, who has returned to Belfast, gets a phone call from Joe. "We're finished," Joe says. In the final scene, Alistair is overcome with emotion and almost starts to cry while standing in the middle of the street.
Viewers who have seen Five Minutes of Heaven recommend movies that detail the 1981 IRA hunger strike led by Bobby Sands [1954-1981], such as Some Mother's Son (1996) and Hunger (2008). Another recommendation is Bloody Sunday (2002), in which Irish protest marchers end up being fired upon by British soldiers. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) tells the story of two freedom-fighting brothers who end up pitted against each other in 1920s Ireland. Michael Collins (1996) is a drama/biography of the man who led the IRA against British rule and founded the Irish Free State in 1921. The Boxer (1997) describes one man's attempts to leave behind his IRA activities by starting a boxing club open to both Catholics and Protestants, and in Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008), a young Belfast lad is recruited by the British police to infiltrate the IRA. Angela's Ashes, based on an autobiography of Frank McCourt, tells the story of an Irish Catholic family trying to live in northern Ireland and details the prejudices they faced. The documentary Art of Conflict (2012) may be of interest.
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