Bloody Sunday

Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 10/27/02 15:33:04

"You can't close your eyes or make it go away"
5 stars (Awesome)

“Bloody Sunday” is a war movie done right for a change. It may not come across as a war movie under the same terms that one would view, say, “Saving Private Ryan” as a war movie. It does not mainly consist of one nationality pitted against another. This war exists between militants and civilians. The big difference between this war movie and just about every other war movie that has come out in the past few years is that “Bloody Sunday” takes the time to show the conscience that lurks within both sides of the conflict. It takes the events of January 30, 1972 in the Northern Ireland town of Derry and deconstructs it so that we may apply it to current events.

This movie knows the wisdom that one day can decode an entire lifetime. It sees the conflict through the eyes of those who want to protest peacefully, those who want to protect their men from harm, those who give the orders, those who follow them, and those who get caught in the crossfire. And if you have forgotten what those few days or weeks after September 11th felt like, “Bloody Sunday” just might be the most potent reminder. It’s that powerful. (Please note: the movie uses Don Mullen’s book “Eyewitness Bloody Sunday” as its source material, which I have not read. The credits indicate that the filmmakers took certain liberties for the sake of dramatization.)

Writer-director Paul Greengrass and cinematographer Ivan Strasburg shot “Bloody Sunday” with hand-held cameras giving us the urgency and intimacy needed for us to feel closer to the action and drama. It’s not a documentary, but it sure as hell feels like one. Greengrass uses fade-outs and fade-ins as scene transitions and most scenes don’t last for more than a minute. The effect will feel jarring for a little while. One may wish for a scene to go on longer, but by setting up this style early on, we get the real feeling of chaos, uncertainly, horror and dizziness that would most-likely accompany the experience of living through that horrific day. Once the bullets start flying, who has time to think?

So, what did happen on that day? The movie opens with Protestant Parliament protest leader Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt, in a brilliantly understated performance) and his team giving a press conference, saying that he wants a “peaceful protest” for the Catholics in Northern Ireland in the name of Civil Rights. “If we don’t march, Civil Rights is dead in this country,” he says, referring to the British policy of internment without trial. We also see the British Major General Robert Ford (Tim Piggott-Smith) telling the press that he and his men will put a stop to any protest, peaceful or otherwise. But Cooper insists it will be peaceful. We know otherwise.

“Bloody Sunday” goes back and forth between the march itself and the British in their headquarters looking at maps and planning strategies. The movie also focuses on the young kids who get brainwashed into thinking this march will change their world. We see this side through the eyes of 17-year-old Catholic Gerry Donaghy (Declan Duddy) who has a protestant girlfriend and a small shot at a future, so long as he can stay out of trouble, but his friends lead him down a path that could endanger his life. We also eavesdrop on a group of militants who talk and recount the day’s activities, with one soldier as the voice of reason who, to his fellow soldiers, may be their weakest link. A social conscience, much like the march itself, is a threat to these soldiers’ way of dealing with the situation.

For the most part, though, the movie belongs to Cooper and Ford. The mentally trigger-happy Ford sees this march as an inevitable violent clash while Cooper has only his idealism to shelter him from the possibilities of a war-like scenario. History says one thing, but Cooper prefers to think of the future as something else. Both sides have a rude awakening coming, and once we see that first brick being thrown and that first gunshot being fired, we can see that history has a way of controlling the future, no matter how good the intentions of the righteous may be. We don’t watch “Bloody Sunday” necessarily taking sides, but rather, we watch it wishing Cooper and Ford would stop everything and talk this over before one more person has to die. No war movie in recent memory has ever done that.

And yet, “Bloody Sunday” doesn’t feel the least bit manipulative. There exist no string sections to tug at the heart. The emotions are raw and devastating. I mentioned earlier that most of the scenes in this movie go by rather quickly, but to Greengrass’ credit as well as his impeccable cast, no performance gets buried. One look of fear says a thousand words and every decision made by every character carries with it the weight of the world, and we can clearly feel that weight. In a lesser movie, the British would come off as one-dimensional cartoon villains and a love story amongst the “good guys” would overshadow the importance of the event itself.

The year 2002 has showcased a bunch of films that examine and clarify the current state of the human condition. Since 9-11 and the possibility of an attack on Iraq as part of our “War on Terror (an oxymoron?),” these movies have a real potency about them. “Frailty” showed what exactly makes a religious fanatic. “Changing Lanes” showed the paranoia that has seeped into our culture so that no one can be trusted. Likewise, Michael Moore’s “Bowling For Columbine” showed a nation ripe with fear of one another and guns being the only means of protection Americans can count on. “Bloody Sunday” takes a microcosmic war and uses it to explain all wars. History has brainwashed all of us, and because we all have different historical backgrounds, the inevitable conflicts of interest can’t possibly be washed away.

“Bloody Sunday” has the grace to call for prevention rather than just to place blame, making it one of the best war movies ever made. It’s a movie that accomplishes so much that one viewing can’t possibly be enough. The characters and their war-torn faces stayed with me. I walked out of the movie devastated, dizzy, sad and angry, but also with a renewed faith (similar to how I felt after Michael Moore’s movie) that there still exists some great filmmakers out there who want to use the medium to help change the way we see ourselves, to help ignite change for a better world by reflecting on history with a fresh perspective. Movies such as these have great importance now more than ever, and “Bloody Sunday”—with its poetry, urgency and grace—represents the best of them all.

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