JWR Articles: Film/DVD - The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Director: Ken Loach) - August 23, 2006

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

3.5 3.5
124 min.

Reviewed for the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival
Why no one ever wins

Imagine dying because you refuse to state your name, address and occupation in the language of your occupiers.

Imagine shooting to death a dim-witted childhood chum who didn’t have the smarts to avoid revealing freedom-fighter secrets to His Majesty’s “gentleman” farmer who gets shot just as dead moments before.

Imagine having your finger nails extracted one at a time in hopes you’ll betray your fellow insurgents who are in close-by captivity, enduring your every scream, yet fearing they will be next.

Imagine being an “enemy” private-with-a-conscience and risking your life to free the native-born captives from their Imperial aggressors.

Imagine not having all of the jail-cell keys, and forced to leave behind other “criminals” to face certain abuse from their revenge-seeking “betters.”

Imagine surviving a humiliating frisking in a pub by the power-privileged Brits only to come back to their private room and shoot the partying friskers at close range. Imagine that being referred to as an ambush.

Imagine ambushing a convoy by disguising one of your own as one of their own then killing every man like shooting fish in a barrel.

Imagine witnessing your beloved physically abused by the enemy, seeing her family’s home torched while hiding in the trees waiting for a better “chance” to settle the score.

Imagine signing a peace treaty that forces you to swear allegiance to your enemy. Imagine your fellow countrymen think this is as good a deal as could be had.

Imagine being lectured by the compassionate clergy as to why the powers that be (as opposed to the Almighty power) demand acquiescence to this sham of victory.

Imagine being trained as a medical doctor and ending more lives than you’ve saved.

Imagine being executed by your wartime friend who prefers the devil he knows (and the spiffy new uniforms) to the liberty he’s sought.

Imagine delivering the pre-execution letters to the mother or lover that you’ve killed, think yourself noble, then assure the despondent women that they “shall never set eyes on you again.”

Imagine not seeing The Wind that Shakes the Barley and understanding why armed conflict will never be eradicated.

Director Ken Loach has courageously put death, destruction and discourse all over the screen, succeeding best in the atrocities and coming up short in the scenes of political idealism.

Paul Laverty’s script covers miles of territory but needed another two hours to really help anyone understand why hunger is at the root of the struggle.

George Fenton’s music—low-string rich and at one with the action—adds much to the experience; the sound department’s “capture” of the retreating enemy’s march past, with the bass drum—literally—moving by the audience is an aural marvel. The truly awful rendition of bullets launched and flesh punctured is convincingly gruesome.

Barry Ackroyd’s camera sets the mood and tone with every frame. Spectacular is the ascent into the green, green hills soon be covered with blood of the guilty and oh so innocent.

Cillian Murphy as Damien (doctor by trade, executioner by conviction), manages the brooding aspects beautifully but can’t make us feel that he believes more in the cause than the love of his life.

Liam Cunningham’s portrayal of Dan, elder rebel of the band, has fire in the belly, but his convictions are more than doubled by the occupation forces leaders (notably Anthony Byrne and Bill Hurst) whose sadistic pleasure in beating the weak echoes only too clearly in present-day Iraq and Afghanistan.

Olga Fitzgerald as Sinead, Damien’s girl, doesn’t get the screen time to add true emotional ballast to the carnage. Sadly, her beating by the British falls short of the rape that most certainly would have been on the menu and still is today.

What does ring through loud and clear is the notion that because it’s a war, senseless killings and Revenge “R” Us is not only permissible, but a noble enterprise—no matter whose side you’re on. All the more difficult to crown a winner, much less celebrate victories, which—after all—are only legislated intermissions on the world stage of animal carnage in the name of liberty. JWR

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