Friday, October 29, 2010

Bloody Sunday

Film: Bloody Sunday (2002)
Dir: Paul Greengrass
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

On January 30, 1972, a peaceful march was planned in the Irish town of Derry. It was one of many events staged by residents of Northern Ireland to protest English oppression. A British paratrooper regiment was put in place with orders to quell a potential uprising and make arrests. During the demonstration, a few rebellious teenagers threw stones at the soldiers, resulting in a small riot. During the confusion, the British Army command center received reports of a possible IRA sniper in the area. The paratroopers subsequently entered the Bogside area and began firing into the crowd of civilians. Thirteen Irish were killed and fourteen wounded. All the victims were unarmed and many were shot in the back while fleeing. The subsequent inquiry by the British defended the actions of the paratroopers, justifying the shootings as self-defense.

The incident has been forever immortalized as “Bloody Sunday.” It was a devastating tragedy, made worse by the fact that justice has yet to be served for the victims. British writer/director Paul Greengrass captures the incident with striking fidelity. Shot on a hand-held camera, the film feels almost suffocating, like watching a horror movie. The story is divided between three perspectives – the Army command center; the paratroopers; and the protesters. This is a very effective design and it feels less biased. In the film, not all British are portrayed as monsters, nor are all Irish portrayed as saints. The paratroopers believed they were up against a real enemy, and like the protesters, they too were scared. This honesty makes the film feel that much more real.

Leading the march was politician Ivan Cooper, who is portrayed by James Nesbitt in Bloody Sunday. Cooper, a major player in the Irish civil rights movement, believed in non-violent protest and very much wanted to avoid a conflict that Sunday afternoon. The emotional impact of the “Bogside massacre” (as it is also known) is visualized through Cooper in the film. He is the walking embodiment of Irish liberation, and the January 30th incident takes a crushing toll not only on him personally but on the rights movement itself. Furthermore, the actions of the British only served to galvanize the Irish Republican Army, with whom he strongly disagreed. As Cooper, Nesbitt is a very likable moral center, and when the weight of the situation is upon him, his eyes recall the intensity of a young Jack Nicholson.

Writer/director Paul Greengrass delivers a powerful script and his usual gritty visual style. His script focuses on some characters closely – including Cooper; one of the shooting victims; and a reluctant British soldier – in order to help the viewer become emotionally invested in these people and not get swept away by the scale of the tragedy. The hand-held camerawork is very effective at creating tension and fear, putting the viewer right there on the streets of Derry. However, Greengrass does have a tendency to cut excessively which can be off-putting. The film skips around and scenes often fade to black before they feel complete. Granted, the effect gives the film the look of actual footage that has been haphazardly spliced together, but such hyperactive editing is also a bit distracting to the viewer.

The events of that day and what they represent still resonate today with Irish and non-Irish alike. Countless artists and musicians, including U2 and John Lennon, have paid tribute to the victims. Bloody Sunday too is a fitting artistic tribute to a piece of history that must never be forgotten. In June of 2010, the British prime minister apologized for the shootings on Bloody Sunday following a report that decreed the paratroopers were not justified and that innocent, unarmed civilians were gunned down that day. Perhaps artists’ renderings such as this film have bolstered support for the cause and are now hopefully bringing peace to the families left behind.


Sean D. said...

Nice job putting the real events and the significance of the film into perspective. I'll definitely check this out. Sounds pretty good. Looking forward to more Nesbitt too.

Elgart said...

Never seen this yet! I will be checing this out! Nice review..Great blog..