Published Jul 31, 2009Clinically examining the interoperability of an organization, warts and all, Fifty Dead Men Walking works mainly as an investigation into the IRA's unsavoury nature, offering only flat exposition on the bigger picture. It's an engaging, well-paced and appropriately tense inquest but also one that distances and cuts off potential connectivity at the knees.
Based on Martin McGartland's (Jim Sturgess) real life story, Fifty Dead Men Walking follows him from a cocky young man selling stolen goods to his involvement with both the IRA and the British Police. It is Martin's fearless resistance of leadership that causes British Special Branch operative Fergus (Ben Kingsley) to target him as a spy for their cause.
Once selected, Martin winds up working his way up the ranks of the IRA volunteer organization, with best friend and hardcore IRA supporter Sean (Kevin Zegers), eventually reaching the top, with the elusive Rosena Brown (Rose McGowan) and other IRA leaders. Meanwhile, he struggles to juggle his business relationship with his personal ones, which include his wife (Natalie Press) and their growing family.
While there is an interesting parallel drawn between Martin's persistent concern with the lives of the innocent and Fergus's lack of interest in casualties (which comes into play in the final act), it is mostly expositional and dealt with in a manner that leaves the emotional core out of the hands of the capable actors.
Furthermore, once the ire of a scene is established and pressure is built, there is rarely an understanding of how to deliver a payoff. The camera never knows where to go during these moments, instead shaking and inadvertently avoiding the crisp centre and visually dramatic fulcrum desperately needed to make any individual moment memorable or arresting.
These are just a couple of the many missed opportunities to make a technically interesting film into something emotionally profound and affecting. For all of the successes of Fifty Dead Men Walking there are equal amounts of failures, leaving the biography as little more than an interesting information piece. (TVA)