Paul Greengrass's BLOODY SUNDAY reveals the truth about the catalyst
for "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland. And it's not pretty. It
seems that the IRA's campaign of terror that has killed hundreds (thousands?)
is a consequence of the massacre of thirteen Irish Catholics by British soldiers in 1972.
Since the movie is presented in docudrama fashion, the facts feel
like they can't be questioned. And indeed perhaps many or most of
them are accurate. Who knows? I don't, but I'm sure my mailbox will
be deluged, as usual, by people who believe that they do. What is
very clear is that Paul Greengrass's one-sided documentary offers
simplistic explanations to a very complex situation.
During a peace march led by Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), chaos breaks
out, and Ivan is no longer able to control the crowd. In the film's
version of the events, some of the marchers launch a constant barrage
of large rocks at heavily armed British soldiers, who overact and
later lie about what happened. The troops use water cannons, tear
gas, rubber bullets and, eventually, live ammunition in an attempt
to control the situation. There are some armed IRA gunmen firing
at the soldiers, but the film minimizes their importance. In the
trailing credits, we learn that the soldiers were never disciplined
for their actions, with the assumption being that they should have
been. In a lecture to the TV cameras, Ivan tells the British government
that the actions of their soldiers that day caused boys throughout
Northern Ireland to decide to join the IRA and receive their weapons.
Stylistically, the movie is a disaster. In order to create the feeling
of a documentary, handheld cameras are held shakily, and the camera
operator tries his best to over-pan and over-zoom as if he were nervous
that a bullet might come his way. In order to simulate the effect
of documentary footage, the editor cuts to black about every thirty
seconds, as if he were assembling hundreds of little bits of taped footage.
Still, even as a one-sided presentation of such a horrific part of
history, BLOODY SUNDAY is captivating. As frustrated as I was by
the techniques, I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. It made
me wonder about what really happened and made me feel sorry for the
people that died that day and for those who died in all the IRA terrorist
bombings in the following decades.
BLOODY SUNDAY runs 1:50. It is rated R for "violence and language"
and would be acceptable for older teenagers.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes