Five Minutes of Heaven (review)

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After a disastrous foray into Hollywood with the tepid sci-fi potboiler The Invasion German director Oliver Hirschbiegel returns to the realms of uneasy morality he explored in his portrait of Bunker Hitler in Downfall… and this difficult, uncomfortable film, which similarly deconstructs the notion of what “evil” is, hits even closer to home for today’s mess of a culturally fractured world. Back in 1975, a teenaged Protestant hitman (Mark Davison) killed a Catholic man, because that’s what “good” Protestant men did in Northern Ireland back then, in front of the man’s 11-year-old brother. Now, today, the two men are brought together by a television show seeking a sort of Irish version of the South African truth-and-reconciliation plan: Liam Neeson (Taken) is the former hitman who has put his life, since he got out of prison for that murder, to better use; James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday) is the grownup brother who cannot forget what he saw, or how his mother blamed him for not doing something to stop the murder. Neeson and Nesbitt (the latter is well known to fans of British TV for his rageful presence) are powerful and unexpectedly astonishing as their meeting takes turns unforeseen by either, but it’s the script — by Guy Hibbert, writer of British TV thrillers; indeed, this was made for British TV and debuted there last spring — that’s the real knockout. Subtle and sharp in how it turns over notions of revenge and grief, forgiveness and empathy, compassion and understanding, it is a piercing takedown of the delusions and selfishness that powers internecine hatreds and fuels terrorism. Improbable as it may sound, if ever a movie could save the world, or even just a few lives, this one might be it… if only the people who need to see it and consider its message could be bothered to watch. (available on IFC on Demand)

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