Tuesday, August 18, 2009

FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN: "Truth & Reconciliation" comes to Ireland

How odd to have two movies about the decades-old-and-still-continuing England/
Ireland "troubles" opening in New York on the same day. One of these is Kari Skogland's Fifty Dead Men Walking -- about which and I'll have more to say later this week (as well as the trans-
cription of a Round-
table Q&A with its stars Sir Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess). The other

is FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN, director Oliver Hirschbiegel's (shown at left, who has given us the fine films Downfall and The Experiment) and award-winning Brit TV writer Guy Hibbert's staggering combination of real characters and invented scenario. Having seen a number of films that deal with (or glance off) the now popular "truth & reconciliation" events begun in post-Apartheid South Africa (the not-very-good drama Country of My Skull and the very good documentary My Neighbor, My Killer are two that come immediately to mind), I can truthfully say that Five Minutes of Heaven is not simply the best of the lot -- but a remarkable film in every way.

In it, a TV crew is planning a program in which the remaining member of a family whose older son was shot by a terrorist more than a decade back, is, for the first time since the killing, to meet, speak to and "reconcile" with his brother's assassin. On camera, of course. ("If you feel your eyes welling up, just go with it," he is counseled by the producer. "But look up, not down.") This is heady stuff, and it is also something ripe for heavy-handed satire. Thankfully, Hirschbiegel and Hibbert refrain from the latter and offer the former. In the role of assassin (now a man dedicated to helping the victims of terrorism) is a dark and troubled Liam Neeson (shown below), while the younger brother, now a grown man, married with family, is played by James Nesbitt (shown above, who also starred in Bloody Sunday). While Mr. Neeson does a wonderful job, it's Mr. Nesbitt who gives the best perfor-
mance by an actor I have seen all year and maybe in the past several. I would call him a shoo-in at awards time were it not that this is a small film. Who knows how many people will ever see it?

No matter. It will endure because it honors its theme by forcing us to see and feel what its two protagonists have seen and felt (and done -- or not done), now and in the past. It comes closest of any of the several film approaches to truth & reconciliation by making us under-
stand how difficult the reconciliation part actually is. What it takes to achieve this is something absolutely visceral and very nearly ultimate, and every step along the path is brought to stunning, ugly, sad life by the cast and crew. One of the most marvelous touches is provided by the character of the young woman on hand to help the TV crew; she's from Croatia and so has experienced her own share of horror and repercussion. There's nothing manufactured nor manipulative about this character (nor in the fine work of the actress who plays her, Anamaria Marinca, from 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days).

There's really nothing else you need to know about this movie: Just see it. Short and to the point, Five Minutes of Heaven (the title refers to what one of the two characters hopes desperately to experience) offers a whopping good lesson in both life and movie-making. Distributed by IFC Films, it opens in theaters on Friday, August 21, and will be available On-Demand, Wednesday, August 19. Consult your local TV reception provider for further information.

(All photos are from the film itself,
except that of Herr Hirschbiegel, by Fred Hayes,
which is courtesy of and copyrighted by WireImage.com)

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