The title is the first thing that shocks in this thought-provoking BBC drama on the supposed reconciliation of murderer and victim on the opposing sides of the "Irish Troubles" - James Nesbitt's damaged character equates "five minutes of heaven" to the feeling he anticipates when he takes his long sought revenge against against the now grown-up teenage gunman who shot down his big brother in front of his disbelieving infant eyes.
Taking a documentary approach, involving the use of hand-held camera shots and vernacular language, the film commences with a suspenseful 20 minute prelude to the modern-day action, by taking us back to the initial killing in Lurgan and the cold-blooded slaying of an innocent Catholic whose only crime is not leaving town quickly enough under orders of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The film then jumps forward as we see the James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson characters now grown up and preparing for a staged rapprochement in front of TV cameras. At first Nesbitt seems the more damaged, edgy, strung out, never able to exorcise the sight of what he saw as a child. Neeson's character seems calmer and more prepared, indeed, he's almost "dined-out" on his experiences re-living his experiences to various support groups down the years. However, when the time comes for him to face the actual witness to his crime, he too buckles under he pressure and in the end both men are irresistibly drawn to one other to expiate their demons at first violently and then calmly, by the conclusion.
The film works through the power of the source material, the naturalness of the direction and the conviction of the acting, especially by the principals. Nesbitt, so often the BBC's go-to tough guy is here a twitching, on-the-edge individual, who although on the face of it a happily married family man, has never satisfactorily confronted his demons. Neeson, having served, we're told 12 years in prison and as stated re-counted his experience several times over, nonetheless inhabits the same emotional no-man's-land as Nesbitt, indeed, there is no reference to him having any family whatsoever.
A few scenes didn't ring true, for one thing Nesbitt's mother's rage against her pre-teenage son's not somehow protecting his adult brother from an older gunman, seems misplaced. I rather think any mother would have ultimately been relieved that he'd survived never mind that he was the only one left behind as all the other family members went out separately on the fateful night. Perhaps too, the scenes involving the staged-for-TV meet-up between Murphy & Neeson go on too long (in particular a pointless drawn-out exchange between Nesbitt and a female "runner") while on a more basic level, there's really no way either man should have got up unharmed after pitching out a first floor window climaxing their "danse-macabre" at the climax.
There's a debatable point too about whether the film couldn't have been stretched to show both sides of the fence, i.e. a parallel story on the impact of IRA killings on the Protestant community, but the film is more about the universal themes of corrupted innocence, guilt, revenge and ultimately forgiveness that I can understand the film-maker honing his story down to the essence of these two characters. Ultimately, the story ends on a positive note, when the unconditional loving smile of Nesbitt's young daughter returns him to the present and effectively acts as the catalyst to free both men from the yoke of their memories.
As someone who grew up when the daily news was filled with stories of mutual atrocities on the Irish divide, this was a sobering and at times harrowing depiction of what it must have been like - leaving just one mystery for me...at the outset a titled legend talks about the piece as a fiction and yet the end titles seem to credit real-life characters bearing the names of those played out in the drama. Whither the truth?
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