Fifty Dead Men Walking
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary with Director Kari Skogland; On set with Fifty Dead Men Walking; Exclusive extract from the book Fifty Dead Men Walking; Deleted Scenes; Theatrical Trailer.
JIM Sturgess comes of age in Kari Skogland’s 50 Dead Men Walking, a gritty look at the Troubles in Northern Ireland loosely based on the autobiography of real-life IRA informant Martin McGartland.
Skogland’s film, of course, takes on extra resonance given recent events, but is primarily set in Belfast in the period between 1987 and 1991, when McGartland as an undercover informant after being recruited by a British handler.
It opens with a bang, however, some time after that as an older McGartland is tracked down in hiding and shot at close range by a masked assailant for his betrayal. It’s a shocking sequence that ensures the movie has our immediate attention.
Thereafter, we get to see how McGartland (as played by Sturgess) graduated from cheeky petty criminal to full-blown IRA informant under the strict tutelage of Royal Ulster Constabulary handler Fergus (Sir Ben Kingsley). It’s an undertaking that’s frought with peril, as McGartland first must win the friendship and trust of his IRA counterparts, and then sets about rising through the ranks in a bid to glean more information on forthcoming terrorist activities.
Sturgess is great at balancing the outward bravado of McGartland with the mounting sense of paranoia and fear over the repercussions of being exposed. But he’s ably supported by the likes of the ever-reliable Kingsley and supporting players such as Kevin Zegers and Natalie Press.
Skogland, meanwhile, continually cranks up the tension and ensures that the threat of violence is consistently maintained, with several sequences likely to shock with their raw intensity.
The film isn’t without controversy, of course, and there are some who might argue that McGartland’s portrayal is far too heroic, while the thickness of some of the Irish accents makes keeping up difficult at times.
A strong knowledge of Northern Ireland history may also be required early on, as key events are relayed via news footage, while McGartland himself has publicly criticized the film for not being a true account of events.
But Fifty Dead Men Walking does work as a solid thriller in its own right, as well as delivering a timely reminder of the strength of feeling and complicated nature of The Troubles at their height.
It’s also suitably fast-paced enough to keep you guessing, especially once McGartland’s cover is blown and he is taken hostage by his former IRA colleagues for inevitable torture and murder.
Fifty Dead Men Walking is therefore worth seeing as a solid British thriller, as well as for the career redefining performance from Sturgess and solid support from Kingsley and Zegers. Just don’t take every event as gospel!
Running time: 117mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: September 7, 2009
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Kevin Zegers interview
- Fifty Dead Men Walking photo gallery