Five Minutes of Heaven

 

AN OPENING caption describes this edgy Northern Ireland drama as “a fiction inspired by two real lives”.

It begins in Lurgan in 1975, introducing Alistair Little (Mark Davison) as a 17-year-old whose bedroom is festooned with posters of Bruce Lee and George Best – and conceals a gun. At his impressionable age, Little had been a member of the UVF for two years.

The film’s 20-minute prologue concludes with a reconstruction of the evening Little cold-bloodedly murdered a 19-year-old Catholic, Jim Griffin, a crime witnessed by the victim’s 11-year-old brother Joe (Kevin O’Neill).

Guy Hibbert’s thoughtful script artfully veers into speculation as the film leaps to the present and explores the possible consequences if Little and Joe Griffin were to meet for the first time. It employs the fictional device whereby they have been persuaded to participate in a TV show on the theme of truth and reconciliation.

Having served 12 years in prison, Little (now played by Liam Neeson) has become immersed in conflict resolution projects. Griffin has married and is the father of two daughters. They may seem to have moved on with their lives, but they remain complicated individuals, emotionally scarred for life after that shocking event 33 years earlier.

The significance of the title is best explained within the context of the film itself, as it asks difficult questions and offers no easy answers. Reaching a cathartic resolution presents its most daunting challenge as the protagonists anxiously approach their proposed encounter.

What results, however, has evolved from Hibbert’s extensive series of separate interviews with Little and Griffin over three years, and has to be accepted as such in the context of an affecting film made with evident concern, conviction and sincerity. The movie’s German director, Oliver Hirschbiegel ( Downfall), treats the material in a low-key style that avoids sensationalising it, and he brings to it the objectivity of an outsider.

At the heart of the drama are two deeply felt performances. Nesbitt vividly portrays Griffin as a man still coiled with rage and horror by indelible memories of a living nightmare when he was a boy. And Neeson’s haunted features reveal the guilt and pain Little has carried since he committed his terrible crime.

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. Starring Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt 15A cert, Kino, Cork; Movies@Dundrum/ Savoy, Dublin; Eye Galway, 90 min★★★★