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THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham, Orla Fitzgerald
Director: Ken Loach
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Weinstein Company
Features: See Review
Length: 127 Minutes
Release Date: September 4, 2007

“I tried not to get into this war, and did, now I try to get out, and can't.”

Film ****

Watching a film like The Wind That Shakes the Barley is anything but an easy task. Here is a film that makes absolutely no compromises in presenting to the viewer the horrific truth of what it was like to be Irish in 1920. Director Ken Loach, one of our most valuable political filmmakers, and screenwriter Paul Laverty have done a riveting job in bringing to the viewer’s attention this unfortunate chapter in history.

The film takes place during a brief period in the Irish guerilla wars against the imposing British forces. And the acts of violence that unfold before our eyes are some of the most unnerving scenes in film history, placing this film alongside the likes of Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda. As the British make countless attacks on the innocent Irish, the country ends up divided unexpectedly over the matter.

At the core of the story is the relationship of two brothers with different viewpoints. Damien (Cillian Murphy) is a medical student who would like nothing more than to further his education at a prestigious hospital in London. It’s only before his departure that he witnesses the atrocities against his fellow countrymen. As a result, Damien decides against his will to join a resistance group.

Damien’s brother, Teddy (Padraic Delaney), happens to be the leader of the resistance group. Teddy has long been an activist member of the resistance and is in this battle to the death. Teddy’s wish is for his brother to feel the same but Damien, as upset and horrified by the violence that has invaded his country, doesn’t want to get involved too deep in the fight.

Nonetheless, the two brothers are side by side, fighting back at the very forces that have invaded Ireland. And throughout his participating in the fighting, we see the conflict that Damien is wrestling with, and we are right there with him as he struggles to satisfy his brother and the Irish Republican Army, while at the same time trying to stay alive so that he will be able to live a life of peace. But one thing is for certain; once you’re involved in such a war, the end results are rarely ever happy.

And complications arise along the way in the form of a treaty. The acceptance and signing of the British treaty by one faction of Irish freedom fighters is completely opposed by another side of Irish. This places countryman against countryman and, even worse, brother against brother as Damien and Teddy’s differing views collide to a most tragic end.

With this performance, Cillian Murphy, whose known for his darker villainous roles in films such as Batman Begins and Red Eye, delivers a dramatic revelation that is quite moving. With this film, as well as the criminally underrated Sunshine, Murphy has had quite a remarkable year in terms of expanding his impressive range. His performance here is very much the heart and soul of The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

This is a bold and poetic film, filled with amazingly beautiful scenery as only the Irish country can provide. But it’s also quite difficult to watch as you, the viewer, witness such horrific acts unfold before your eyes. The Wind That Shakes the Barley will leave you shaken with its subject matter, which is entirely the film’s sole purpose.

Video ****

This is a quite beautiful anamorphic widescreen presentation courtesy of The Weinstein Company. Barry Ackroyd’s grand cinematography is simply awe-inspiring in its capturing of the Irish country’s landscapes. The picture is clean and crisp, with not a single image flaw detected in sight.

Audio ***

A most effective 5.1 mix is supplied here. Mostly a dialogue oriented piece, the spoken words are delivered as clear and strong as can be. Occasional violent shootouts also make for some nice strong sounding moments.

Features **

Included on this disc is a commentary track with director Ken Loach and Historical Advisor Professor Donal O’Driscoll, a featurette titled “Carry on Loach: A Look at the Work of Director Ken Loach” and a Theatrical Trailer.

Summary:

Though it’s not always a pleasant chapter in our history to revisit, The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a bold and thoroughly gripping account of a crucial point in Ireland’s struggle for independence. A must see for any historical buffs or those seeking some riveting drama.

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