Reviews

Fifty Dead Men Walking

3

The life of an informer…

Based on the life of IRA informer Martin McGartland (here played by Jim Sturgess), this earnest effort wants to be a Belfast Donnie Brasco, but doesn’t quite brew the alchemy that turned Brasco’s book into movie gold.

A cocky Catholic lad with no prospects, McGartland peddles knock-off goods in ’80s Northern Ireland. It’s a wretched wasteland of cracked concrete and burnt-out cars, where the brutalities of the British Army and brick-flinging street violence are constant threats.

Ever the opportunist, McGartland joins the IRA as a ‘tout’ (snitch) selling secrets to Ben Kingsley’s copper. Galvanised by Canadian director Kari Skogland’s verve and a lively indigenous soundtrack, the early scenes provide an excellent précis of the period. But as the Departed-style plot struggles to absorb the full detail of McGartland’s book, the film threatens to drift out of Skogland’s control.

Luckily, the likeable Sturgess keeps things on track, energetically embodying McGartland’s self-made moral dilemmas. Some of his co-stars aren’t so lucky – Kingsley in particular, who has only a comedy toupée and some hair-raising platitudes to work with. “It’s harder to live for your country than to die for it,” he growls.

Equally bemusing is McGartland’s relatively smooth ascent through the IRA’s ranks – not to mention how he’s able to pull one of the organisation’s higher-ups (the incongruously glam Rose McGowan) with just his sly wit and ratty ’tache.

Skogland precariously treads the line between duty to her subject and the need to entertain, but what emerges is a serious, atmospheric and absorbing look at a topic that, as recent history has shown, continues to warrant debate.

Rob James

Verdict:

A well-meaning and inadvertently timely attempt to tackle the Troubles, whose thriller-toned accessibility occasionally trips over cine-clichés. Meanwhile, a confident, complex Sturgess makes his strongest impression yet. Total Film is happy to clarify that Martin McGartland and Nicholas Davies are the joint authors of the book "Fifty Dead Men Walking".  The screenplay to the film is inspired by the book, although many aspects and characters have been changed. The screenplay was not written or approved by Martin McGartland or Nicholas Davies and is not a reproduction or adaptation of the book or any substantial part of it.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • PernoK

      Apr 27th 2009, 2:38

      2

      Ben Kingsley gives a great performance in the film, as does Jim Sturgess. However the film is completely let down by the shockingly bad Northern Irish accents of the other non-native actors. Rose Magowan is the most serious offender winning the “Worst accent attempt of any performance in any film I’ve ever seen”, and yes, that includes Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins. I watched the film in a cinema in the centre of Belfast and people actually laughed when she spoke. Runner up is Kevin Zegers, who is difficult to make out because his accent is so confused, followed by Nathalie Press who makes a valiant attempt, but whose slow and deliberate delivery is a complete giveaway. The most irritating thing about this casting is that Northern Ireland is bursting with acting talent (with native Belfast accents) who are more than capable of outstanding dramatic performances. I’m not opposed to actors putting on accents – it’s part of the job, but if you can’t friggin do it, give the job to someone else. Shame on Brendan Gunn the dialect coach, and on Ros and John Hubbard, the big league Irish casting directors who should have known better.

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    • tommy6858

      Oct 7th 2009, 15:35

      4

      I think with this sort of film you have to look past the accents, ok some of the actors were terrible, most notably rose mcgowan. But this film focuses on the material rather than the quality of performance. Before watching this film i did'nt have a very good knowledge of what was going on in Northern Ireland, but after watching this moderately good film, i was very intrigued and it opened my eyes to a lot of things that are a lot closer than you think. Jim Sturgess has proved that he is one of best upcoming actors of this decade and i even thought Ben Kingsley made a good enough impression too. If your looking for something thought-provoking and sometimes very gritty, then this is the film for you. Saying that though, i don't think this is a film for everyone so it's up to you. I say if the jist of the storyline grabs your attention than i would definitely watch it without a doubt, but if it's just a film you thought you might stick on one friday night for the sake of it then i wold second thoughts. Either way, this is one of only so many british films that stand out above the rest and i think it's safe to say that it definitely kept me intrigued throughout the whole duration of the film.

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    • Sheeelashela

      Feb 18th 2011, 8:52

      4

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