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United Kingdom/Canada 2008
Directed by
Kari Skogland
112 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Fifty Dead Men Walking

To the credit of writer-director Kari Skogland, she has opted to keep the broad Irish brogue of her film's characters. Whilst this contributes to the sense of authenticity, for anyone not familiar with it, it tends to make the film with its relatively complicated plot involving subterfuge and double-crossing quite difficult to follow and thus diminishes engagement. Notwithstanding Fifty Dead Men Walking is a gripping story not least because it is based on fact.

Inspired by an autobiographical book by Martin McGartland and Nicholas Davies the film opens with McGartland (Jim Sturgess) in the icy backwoods of Canada being shot multiple times at point-blank range by a balaclava’d assassin. It then scrolls back to Belfast in the height of The Troubles with McGartland a petty criminal recruited by Special Branch officer Fergus (Ben Kingsley) to work as a mole in the IRA. Getting to this point is the hardest part of the plot to follow and one tends to pick up the broad diegesis whilst letting go of the specifics but after that the lines are clearly drawn even if some of the dialogue is diffficult to follow.

McGartland’s story is one of those that seems almost too incredible to be true (the film uses the “inspired by” tag to absolve itself of liberty-taking and apparently McGartland does not endorse the film), including, aside from the opening assassination attempt, a leap from a multi-story apartment building onto a concrete pavement.

Historical accuracy aside, Skogland certainly brings home the brutality of the IRA, the cynicism of the British and, in general, the insanity of the times. Sturgess gives a convincing performance as the seemingly foolhardy McGartland and Kingsley yet again demonstrates his versatility (although it is hard to accept him in a wig). Skogland amply demonstrates that as Kathryn Bigelow unequivocally proved, women can not only do action but do it intelligently, perhaps only the relatively prominent roles here of Natalie Press and Rose McGowan being indicative of a certain gender difference (although the staging of Martin's pursuit by British soldiers through the back streets of Belfast owes much to Jim Sheridan's In The Name Of The Father).

DVD Extras: Descriptive sub-titles for the hearing-impaired; Descriptive narration for the hearing-impaired

Available from: Village Roadshow




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