Five Minutes Of Heaven


Reviewed by: James Benefield

Five Minutes Of Heaven
"An intriguing ‘what if’ that only comes unstuck at the end, as the movie doesn’t know how to resolve itself after a kinetic climax."

Oliver Hirschbiegel has a history of directing films of uncomfortably acute psychological intensity. They’re movies which aim to get under the skins of people who commit egregious acts. Making these movies is a risky business, not least because a lot of his subjects are real people.

Such is the case with Five Minutes Of Heaven, in which we see a victim of terrorism confronting a terrorist. The perpetrator is Alistair Little, who, in 1975, murdered Catholic Labourer Jim Griffen, in the name of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Years on, in the present day, Jim’s brother Joe (James Nesbitt) is asked to attend a television interview with the murderer (played, in this modern incarnation, by Liam Neeson). Little is now a reformed man, who is perpetually atoning for his past in his day job as an international diplomat. It’s clear, however, that despite many years passing, this is not going to be an easy experience for either of them.

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In a Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen etc) style, the result is a considered, intelligent and intricately researched mish-mash of fact and fiction. The murder and the characters are real, yet the present day events are imagined. It’s an intriguing ‘what if’ that only comes unstuck at the end, as the movie doesn’t know how to resolve itself after a kinetic climax. However, for the majority of the length, the conceit expands the movie’s scope from the historically specific into more general issues of forgiveness and redemption.

The film also benefits from strong performances and excellent direction. The two leads complement each other well. Nesbitt is the fire to Neeson’s ice, but both bring subtle shades to their contrasting characters. Although there are inexplicable lapses into the workman-like - perhaps betraying the budget - Hirschbiegel tends to capture every nuance with his probing camera, which favours tight, claustrophobic close-ups.

There’s a streak of a kind of iconoclasm in Hirschbiegel films, which sees the perpetrators of hate and violence taken off their evil pedestals, and viewed as human beings. In Five Minutes Of Heave’, we learn about different kinds of forgiveness in a setting not too far from home. It’s a flawed, but powerful, piece.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2009
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Two men from the same town but from different sides of the Irish political divide discover that the past is never dead - in fact it isn't even past.
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Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Writer: Guy Hibbert

Starring: Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt, Anamaria Marinca, Niamh Cusack, Conor MacNeill, Lalor Roddy, Barry McEvoy, Richard Dormer, Paul Kennedy, Jonathan Harden

Year: 2009

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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