“It’s just a nice Sunday stroll”
When Paul Greengrass was named as the new director in the Bourne series, people had no idea who he was. When he began filming United 93, people wondered what a Brit was doing telling the story of a plane full of American heroes. The answers to these questions always seemed to make mention of the film Bloody Sunday. That reasoning, upon seeing Greengrass’s first major film, holds up strongly. What is now my favorite film of his, the story of that fateful day where a peaceful civil rights march ended in bloodshed and murder by the government, is portrayed as realistically and heartwrenchingly as possible without it being actual documentary footage. It takes guts being English and deciding to take on a tale of injustice by his people over the Irish. When I saw United 93, I left the theatre thinking that no one could have done it any better; this film paved the way, ushering in a new artist able to put emotion and tragedy onscreen without ever letting even one moment seem false.
The handheld filming technique that he has utilized so well in his subsequent films is on display throughout. Always inside the action, the camera follows Parliament member Ivan Cooper while he goes around Derry readying his constituents for their peace march to the civil rights rally. He is a man that is loved by all for both his charisma and his willingness to be among the people during their fight for the rights they deserve. The younger generation and high ranking members of the IRA know him and respect what he is doing, but they feel peace won’t cause change, that they must fight fire with fire. Because of this, and some previous altercations that left British troops injured or killed, the English government has decided to go in and make an example of their power. What begins as a covert operation, to accompany their roadblocks and strong numbers around the town, with a mission to grab IRA members on their wanted list, soon escalates to a massacre of civilians at the hands of adrenaline pumping soldiers who had to wait too long to get out into the action.
All the acting is phenomenal across the board. Young Gerry, played by Declan Duddy, has just gotten out of jail and decides to go with friends to the march, knowing he is risking getting caught again. Duddy does well portraying the love for his girlfriend and his desire to stay outside for her; he knows when he has gotten too close to the troops and tries to go with Cooper’s group to the rally, but his mates won’t let him. When his cousin is killed with a bullet from the troops, troops whom were supposed to be equipped only with rubber, all that goes away. The horror and shock of what has begun to transpire never leaves his face or actions and what eventually happens to his character is truly tragic and disgusting on the part of the British. On their side, both Nicholas Farrell and Gerard McSorley are great as the men behind the scenes, listening to what is happening on the streets. McSorley’s police chief tries to tell Farrell that they should just let the march happen because the kids out there could be too dangerous otherwise. Farrell speaks of how they will use minimum force and throughout the course of events, he constantly tells his men to stand down while they take it upon themselves to move when they have the chance. He is powerless from his position and he knows what kind of tragedy has occurred and that it will end up being on his watch. Standing idle for too long made the soldiers antsy and when they had the opportunity they took it. After the incident, the conversations among the men are atrocious. Bragging about how many they got and the invigorating feeling of it all is appalling, however, not as bad as the one soldier among them who felt remorse at all points, even screaming about the ceasefire while his compatriots continued mowing down innocents. What he ends up doing could possibly be looked upon as worse than the men who actually killed people; his soldier that could have been a voice of truth ends up being a disgusting display of hiding ones’ guilt.
Shining above all, though, is James Nesbitt as Cooper. An actor that doesn’t get enough recognition or work this side of the Atlantic, despite nice turns in Waking Ned Devine and Millions, he is fantastic. His modesty and compassion with the people is contagious at the beginning. He goes through the streets telling the troops that the march will be going, but it will be peaceful, and with every young hooligan he passes he goes to them and says to calm down and join their non-violent demonstration. He tries his hardest to use his political position to stop the riot that begins, but his idealism never prepares him for what happens. What began as Irishmen throwing rocks became two innocents shot down in cold blood. When the hooligans run away to the rally, all hell breaks loose with women and children needing to take cover from the gunfire. Nesbitt’s reaction when his friend Barney tries to surrender is heart-breaking and when he goes to the hospital after it all, he is absolutely genuine in his grief. The glue that holds everything in the movie together, Nesbitt’s concluding speech to the media is hard to watch. A man full of hope for freedom has finally had his eyes opened to the violence and physical tyranny at hand. He is correct when he says that the incident ended the civil rights movement, from that point on there could be no more peaceful marches. Bullets needed to be matched with bullets and young men on the fence of battle were finally swayed to join the war full steam ahead.
Bloody Sunday 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★