Apr 11, 2009

Fifty Dead Men Walking [15]

Dir: Kari Skogland
I hate it when something breaks for no reason. All the parts seem to be working fine, but when they are assembled they just don’t seem to function. That’s what Fifty Dead Men Walking is like.

The film is based, apparently very loosely, on the memoirs of Martin McGartland who, in 1988, was an informer to the British while working in the IRA. This would seem a no brainer for cinematic treatment, it’s inherently dramatic, and it really should have been a formality to make a cracking thriller out of this kind of story, and yet somehow it just doesn’t happen.

The only thing that really sticks out as a problem is Rose McGowan, laughably cast as a high ranking IRA member, giving a performance that stuns with its woodenness and the here today gone tomorrow nature of her Irish accent. She also looks distractingly bad, older than her years, as if she’s had some very bad plastic surgery. The rest of the cast is solid. Jim Sturgess partially redeems himself from the awful Across the Universe, giving a decent performance as McGartland, and Kevin Zegers continues to show that, as an adult, he’s an actor willing to take risks and capable of very good things, as he gives a completely natural performance as McGartland’s best friend. Ben Kingsley isn’t bad, but he seems to put forth little effort as the cop that McGartland reports to, and you never really stop seeing Ben Kingsley in a wig and start seeing Fergus. Lastly there’s Natalie Press, who makes the best of a very thin role as McGartland’s wife, and contributes both charm and a decent accent.

Kari Skogland’s direction, similarly, is resolutely okay. She doesn’t make any terrible mistakes, but there’s absolutely no personality or feeling behind this film, anyone could have directed it. She does create a believable world, the Northern Ireland of the troubles is convincingly evoked right down to the clothes and hairstyles, and the film is stylishly and competently photographed, but the whole feeling is rather plodding and underwhelming.

What’s really missing is any feeling. The characters talk at each other, but there’s little sense of genuine feeling between them, it’s as if the actors are all giving their own individually fine performances each in their own hermetically sealed bubble. This also extends to us, we keep being told how high the stakes are for McGartland (this is clearly true, in real life he remains on the run), but we never really feel any sense of danger. We ought to be on a knife edge throughout this movie, but it’s devoid of suspense, and largely of interest. It’s hard to define what’s really wrong with Fifty Dead Men Walking, but nothing is really all that right with it either.

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