The Wind That Shakes the Barley
2006, NR, 127 min. Directed by Ken Loach. Starring Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham, Gerard Kearney, William Ruane, Orla Fitzgerald, Roger Allam.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., April 27, 2007
After his breakout performance in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later in 2003 (in which he played a young bike messenger who wouldn’t allow a horde of homicidal zombies to rumple his good looks) and his first American triumph, playing a sinister psychologist in the stylish Batman Begins, Irish heartthrob Murphy seemed primed and ready for a brief career as Hollywood’s latest golden boy: long on cheek bones and piercing blue eyes but short, perhaps, on substance. Josh Hartnett with a brogue. Any worries you might have had of that happening, however, can now be put to rest. In left-wing rabble-rouser Loach’s brilliant new film, Murphy proves himself not just another pretty face but a pretty face with a conscience and an actor of surprising depth. He plays Damien O’Donovan, a medical student living in Ireland in 1920 whose plans to move to London are sidetracked by the Irish War for Independence, a bloody struggle that pitted bands of guerrilla fighters against the ruthless Black and Tan soldiers of King George V. At the center of the struggle is Damien’s brother, Teddy (Delaney), a hard-line IRA man who is slightly the worse for wear after being arrested by the “Tans” and introduced to the business end of a rusty pair of pliers. Looking like the cast of the old Untouchables TV show, dressed in paddy caps and overcoats and carrying rifles, the O’Donovans and their band roam the countryside exacting revenge on their occupiers and engaging in heated debates about the nature of rebellion and the dangers of compromise. This being a film about the Irish, those legendarily proud talkers, these conversations are the film’s heart, and Loach directs them with his usual naturalistic flair, allowing his characters to garble their lines and talk over one another, as if their passion and desperation are too forceful for any rehearsed dialogue to contain. Paul Laverty’s script is a masterpiece of ambivalent populism, showing with a subtle touch just how dire the personal consequences of political decisions can be, and how quickly principles can devolve into hypocrisy when the desire for retribution supersedes the need for freedom. The Wind That Shakes the Barley isn’t free of platitudes or high-minded oration, but it’s clear that in Loach’s world, words like “freedom” and “independence” are only abstractions when spoken by people in possession of them and that soap-box oration is only a cliché when you can afford a soap box to stand on. Avoiding the joyous emerald greens so long associated with Ireland in Hollywood mythology, Loach and his cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd, paint a grim realist portrait in muted tones that captures the solemnity of an Ireland turning on itself and the tragedy of two brothers spiraling away from each other. AFS@Dobie