Screenwriters: Kari Skogland
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ben Kingsley, Rose McGowan
Running time: 117 mins
Fifty Dead Men Walking is a largely uninvolving crime thriller that fails to do justice to the intriguing story of an informant within the IRA. Based on Martin McGartland's autobiography, the movie boasts solid and believable performances from Jim Sturgess and Ben Kingsley, yet they are done no favours by an unfocused script that makes it terribly hard to engage with the unfolding events and relationships.
Despite being set in late 1980s Northern Ireland, the movie kicks off with a sequence of Martin (Sturgess) being shot to shreds in Canada in 1999 before hopping back over a decade to detail the events that catapulted him into the firing line. Such non-linearity reeks of the filmmakers trying to be clever, when more effort should have been spent on establishing the relationship between the young Northern Irish lad and his British government handler Fergus (Kingsley). Martin's motivations for ditching his local pals and betraying the IRA are barely explored, meaning that we're deprived of a potentially fascinating psychological portrait of the central character.
Furthermore, occasional (but consistently plodding) narration by the character of Fergus attempts to spoon-feed the audience stacks of descriptive character details when it would have been far more advisable to let us form our own interpretations. Consequently, the movie's first 90 minutes of secret meetings and double dealings pass us by without generating much of an emotional response. Crucially, why should we feel much for the fact that Martin's young family could be at risk from the IRA when we barely have a sense of who they are. Rose McGowan randomly pops up as an IRA Intelligence honcho, but we are given no sense at all of her nature so the only interest is trying to figure out whether her Irish accent is passable.
When the proverbial faeces do hit the fan and Martin's life is plunged into jeopardy when his cover is blown, Fifty Dead Men Walking does momentarily spring into life with a procession of taut and tense sequences when Fergus tries to salvage the life of his under-fire informant. Finally, there is hope of a decent pay-off for the mundane, poorly structured narrative we've had to endure beforehand. Then, before you know it, masses of text floods the screen telling us that Martin is still on the run these days, despite the rival political factions in Northern Ireland declaring their joint commitment to peace in 2007. It says a great deal that the most dramatically involving moment throughout the entire film occurs when a bit of white capitalised text pops up on a black background.
One can't help but feel that the whole enterprise is a missed opportunity, with writer-director Kari Skogland seemingly unable to whip the compelling source material into a workable and rewarding movie. Sturgess and Kingsley, representing two different generations of British acting talent, deserve far better.
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