Gritty and powerful are the best adjectives to describe this movie. The film is a dramatization of the hideous events that transpired on January 30, 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland, when British troops opened fire on a crowd of Irish marchers, killing 13 people and injuring 14, one of which succumbed to his injuries later. Some of the soldiers were later decorated by the British royalty.
The central character is Ivan Cooper, the Protestant Stormont Member of Parliament, who organized the march. Director Paul Greengrass (THE THEORY OF FLIGHT) uses a documentary-like style to its fullest extent. The viewer is given snippets of scenes setting up the planning of the rally on both sides, leading to the dreadful finale. The style is bold and striking and adds to the power of the whole film. One feels like an eyewitness. Greengrass is obviously leaning toward an Irish point of view, but the raw feel of the style makes its argument so convincing.
All the performances are amazing, notably James Nesbitt (WAKING NED DEVINE) as Cooper, Tim Pigott-Smith (GANGS OF NEW YORK) as the cold calculating Maj. Gen. Ford and Nicholas Farrell (PEARL HARBOR) as the concerned British officer Brig. Maclellan. Nesbitt is actually a Protestant from Northern Ireland and many of the military characters are ex-British army soldiers.
What I really liked about the film was that Greengrass didn't abandon a point for realism, which is a complaint I had with BLACK HAWK DOWN. I think that the film is a wondrous example of how violence begets violence leading to a continuous cycle of death, ending with so many atrocities on both sides that it doesn't matter which side started it. He shows young Irish men provoking the soldiers by throwing rocks at them. However, some will argue that the mere presence of the British troupes was provocative. We watch in horror as commands from the top are twisted as the trickle down the chain of command and rubber bullets turn to real bullets. But it's hard to come on the side of the British as the film implies that a wounded marcher, who after being searched twice was found to have no weapons, ends up dying in an army area with nail bombs in his pockets.
Originally produced as a movie for the U.K.'s ITV, the film first made its theatrical debut at the Sundance Film Festival, going on to play in theaters around the globe. It's an amazing true-life lesson and one of the best of last year. PS… don't get bogged down by the thick accents, it's worth the time invested.