Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sundance '09: Five Minutes of Heaven

Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Five Minutes of Heaven would make a great three act play. There are only three major scenes, each a great exercise in screenwriting. Thank writer Guy Hibbert for creating a screenplay instead of a stage play, because this is a film that knocks you right out.

Without revealing too much, devliguging the meaning of the title would be giving too much away, this is the story of two lads on opposite ends of the religious spectrum during Britian’s occupation of '70s Ireland. For the first half hour or so, young wannabe thug Alistair is recruited to kill a Catholic simply because he is Catholic. The message is sent with murder, so is his reasoning. During the brutal gun slaying, Alistair is caught red-handed by his victim’s younger brother. The two share long stare before Alistair runs off.

Twenty three years later, Alistair (now played by Liam Nesson) wants a shot at redemption. A TV show wants to get Alistair and Joe Griffen (James Nesbitt), the younger brother of his victim, face to face for a first time encounter. Joe agrees, reluctantly, and the whole ordeal is to take place in a lavish home on a beautiful piece of property that resembles the home in the beginning of Atonement.

Once the film changes to its present setting, it takes a while to get settled. It doesn’t help that my flat, American ears have the damnedest time trying to pick out coherent sentences from all the thick Irish dialogue. Once our protagonists are nearly face to face, the film turns into a greatly compelling piece.

Both Nesson and Nesbitt are fantastic. Both deliver long unbroken monologues with just the right touch of delicacy (Nesson) and mania (Nesbitt). Nesson gives a performance of calm, regretful smoothness like a real pro, but it’s Nesbitt that steals the show. Nesbitt (Match PointBloody Sunday) unleashes his manic energy like a hurricane.

This is great character work, with a moving third act to balance out the heaviness of the rest of the film. It’s two actors at the top of their games. Enjoy. A

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