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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 21, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

    Five Minutes Of Heaven

    Fiona McCann

    It’s 1975 and Alistair Little is a cocky teenager living in a Lurgan housing estate, with pictures of Bruce Lee and George Best on his wall, an oversupply of testosterone and a burning desire to be a man about town. He joins the UVF, and asks to be allowed kill a Catholic. The man he murders is Joe Griffin’s brother, and 11-year-old Joe is witness to the killing. Thirty three years later, a repentant Little and revenge-hungry Griffin are invited to meet by a television company eager to film the encounter. Both men need this meeting for different reasons, this five minutes of heaven where confronting the past will either put their demons to rest or unleash new ones. It is a masterful, modern and complex look at how post-conflict truth-searching plays over a human heart. Though there are occasional slips into caricature (the television producers are particularly inane), and moments of over-scripted dialogue, the two central performances, with Liam Neeson as the Protestant Little and James Nesbitt as the Catholic Griffin in a canny juxtaposition of their real-life origins, are powerful and nuanced. Nesbitt in particular shines in a role that allows him scope to reveal all of the complexity of being human and male in a world of us against them.

    Five Minutes of Heaven masterfully plays with the preconceptions built instantly by its audience: Little at first appears commanding and successful as he smooth-talks about South Africa and Kosovo to his chauffeur on the way to the meeting place, while Griffin is nervous and self-effacing, discomfited by his place in the back seat. Later, the emptiness of Little’s Spartan Belfast flat provides a different picture, markedly contrasting with Griffins’ bustling family home.

    Oliver Hirschbiegel, who directed Downfall, treats his subject with the kind of care and intelligence it deserves, avoiding the touchy-feely wooliness of his film’s fictional television crew. There are light moments against the dark backdrop, but ultimately Hirschbiegel avoids the easy, satisfying wrap of a Hollywood ending. The result is less of an ending than a page turning, allowing room enough for hope and the possibility of a future that can leave its past behind.

    • Quint says:

      I went to see this yesterday at the Savoy at the JDIFF. It’s very good but falls some way short of being a truly great film. There have been better films about the Northern Ireland conflict and its lingering aftermath. What I found odd about it is that it feels slight despite the weighty subject matter. A large section of the audience were laughing every time Nesbitt appeared on screen but this film is as far from a comedy as you could imagine. Nesbitt is portraying someone dealing with something almost unimaginable to the rest of us, it’s driven him a little crazy and Nesbitt portays this psychological state perfectly but a lot of people found humour in his performance there’s none to be found but I could be wrong. Nesbitt is a fine actor when he does these serious roles and I don’t know why he doesn’t do more of them.

      The film only becomes truly interesting when we see the contrast between Nesbitt’s character, who has some semblance of a normal life and a nice young family and the lonely, tortured world of Neeson’s character who lives alone in a spartan flat with only his guilt for company. And it builds to a compelling and suspenseful climax when they two finally confront each other.

      The writer, director and the two leads were interviewed after. Nesbitt is as charismatic and funny in real life as he is on screen but Neeson was so quiet, he seemed to be in another world!

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