Feb 2008 07

This Irish import from Ken Loach is a wonderful little look into the rise of the IRA in the early 20th century and the affect the war in Ireland had on its people. The political and physical turmoil is told very well from an Irish bias at the beginning of the film before stepping back and taking no real sides once the country is divided.
We open the film with a group of Irishmen being harassed by British soldiers for no apparent reason other then they can. The end result begins to fester a need for change in these men’s heart more than ever before and they begin talking about revolt. One man, Damien (Cillian Murphy), is not sold on the need to fight but rather conform, and is going to leave is countrymen behind to practice medicine in London.
Damien is about on the train and on his way when another outrageous act by the British “Tan Coats” at the station causes him to pause and we see him being inducted into the IRA.
The film shows the group train, prepare, and bumbly function as an organization through its trials and tribulations of their first mission. Damien’s brother Teddy (Padraic Delane) is the leader of their branch of the organization and quickly becomes an important member of the IRA. Damien becomes his right hand man and we watch them as they are forced to further commit and dedicate themselves to the cause for an Ireland free of British occupation.
The film works extremely well and moves along without a hic-up. Along the way you get raids on ammunitions, political intrigue of the state, assassinations of various British soldiers, the film has a little bit for everyone. It gets down to the real guts of the story in the final third though when the Irish begin to turn on each others ideals and sets the stage for years of unrest in Ireland’s history.
Cillian Murphy is very good in the lead as Damien and we feel right along with him over some of the painful and gut wrenching decisions he has to make. His character’s arc is a bit quick sometimes, and we aren’t really given motivations for a lot of these people as to why they choose one side or another, but we believe in their passion and drive to get what they want; even among the senselessness of it all sometimes.
Padraic Delane is also very good as the leader Teddy and you can get behind him and his direction of this group as a sensible leader that keeps his men in line. He leads these rag tag groups of Irish them and instills the will to fight never letting them forget why they are fighting.
Liam Cunningham also does a good job as Dan, a writer and a voice of wisdom among Damien and Teddy’s group of men. Dan is always acting as a voice of reason and serving as a sort of father figure to Damien and a voice to confide in.
Loach does a good job with the material; really banging home the historical aspects well, but the romance subplot is very weak and does not invest us into it at all. The action could also have been done quite a bit better, bet glamorizing it too much might have made it feel less rugged and amateurish, which it was, and it might be a bit more authentic shot with little budget or flash.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a great little history lesson put onto film. It shows us the senselessness of war and what affect idealism can have on a country. We live in vastly different times and you would like to think that absurd mindsets and treatment of people like this don’t happen any more, but sadly they do. You would like to hope that we can learn from our mistakes and that is what message this film is trying to send, and it does it well.


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