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Cowboys and Dissidents (2012)

| Short, Drama, Thriller
To avenge his family, one man must destroy another.

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Roy
Lewis Malseed ...
Andy
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Peter
Mary Ellen McCartan ...
Beth (as Mary-Ellen McCartan)
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Lieutenant Willis
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To avenge his family, one man must destroy another.

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Short | Drama | Thriller

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Overlong and not wholly successful but the central theme of costumes and identity is engaging (SPOILERS)
23 August 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

In Northern Ireland a young man is enabled by Republican dissidents to get revenge for the death of his father at the hands of the RUC. Sneaking into the home of the policeman with a hoodie, mask and gun, the young man lies in wait upstairs as the man is out at the shops and his wife is in the front yard cutting the shrubbery. However, as he waits, he lets his guard down.

This is a worthy film because it has some things to say about the conflict in Northern Ireland and about reaching across perceived divides. Okay it perhaps doesn't go much beyond the reasoning of 'we're all human, aren't we? So why can't we all just get along?' but that is not to say that it is not done a bit smarter than that. There is a scene early on where a car goes by with a child wearing a rabbit mask for seemingly no reason; on reflection on the end of the film, this is just one of many times where we have masks, outfits, costumes, badges and other such things which define identity. We see this throughout the film and it is an idea that is key to the film because the characters do go through various changes depending on these things.

So the main character becomes a dissident by virtue of his mask and his weapon – he himself has not yet done anything but it is clear to the viewer that this is who he is, and indeed it seems to be clear to himself that the mask and hoodie are part of him doing this and being out of his normal character. The contrast between good and bad is seen in the phrasing of the title but also in the costume of the wee boy, to whom the man must shed his outfit to assure him that he is not a bad man but actually just like him – it is perhaps a ruse to get out from behind a gun, but it is also something he comes to believe himself. The lack of police uniform on the target is also key, since it is used as a way of helping our character see beyond the photograph by the bedside and see that this is a real person with a family, not just a boogeyman of the PSNI. In this construct it is well done and interesting.

The delivery itself is perhaps not as sharp as the foundation though. It does go on a bit long for what it needs to do, and this shows particularly when it relies on the device of having a grown man unknowingly held at gunpoint by a child – that works for a while, but not as long as it had to. The ending has a point to make about us all being the same, but it doesn't quite work for me in two ways – firstly it is too blunt compared to the way the point is made throughout the film, but also it doesn't really feel like a statement from the lips of a child so much as the child being tricked into lying to a policeman. The cast are mostly good and although the film has a bit of a drab look to it in terms of color, it is hard to criticize it for that since that tends to be how the weather in NI makes it look a lot of the time!

So the film does have a fundamentally positive message, and is built on a smart foundation of identity, the identities we put on, and what causes us to define others the way we do; the delivery of it is not quite as good though and the end result could have been shorter, smarter and been a better film for it.


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