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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Five Minutes of Heaven

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel is no stranger to controversy. After drawing criticism for his ‘sympathetic’ portrayal of Hitler in Der Untergang (Downfall), Hirschbiegel has turned his sights on the Irish Troubles, putting a human face on another ‘monster’. But rather than taking on the long-maligned IRA, Hirschbiegel and screenwriter Guy Hibbert look to the loyalist Ulster […]
By Alice Tynan
March 14, 2010
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By Alice Tynan
March 14, 2010
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Director Oliver Hirschbiegel is no stranger to controversy. After drawing criticism for his 'sympathetic' portrayal of Hitler in Der Untergang (Downfall), Hirschbiegel has turned his sights on the Irish Troubles, putting a human face on another 'monster'. But rather than taking on the long-maligned IRA, Hirschbiegel and screenwriter Guy Hibbert look to the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the true story of teenage Alistair Little's (Mark Davison) murderous rite of passage. Determined to walk into the pub "ten foot tall", Alistair and his friends set about the senseless killing of a local Protestant unionist, which is witnessed by his terrified younger brother, Joe Griffin.

Appearing at last year's Sydney Film Festival (where the film took out the Audience Award for Best Film) with James Nesbitt, Hirschbiegel described the film's opening 20 minutes as "what actually happened", with the rest being the work of Hibbert's imagination. Cut to 30 years later and an incredibly twitchy Joe (James Nesbitt) is en route to a televised truth and reconciliation meeting with Alistair (Liam Neeson). The intervening years have seen Joe tortured by his mother's recriminations, while Alistair went from 12 years in gaol to minor celebrity dedicated to preaching his story as a cautionary tale. Their meeting is stage-managed to the nth degree, with an increasingly anxious Joe juxtaposed by an outwardly calm and collected Alistair. Amongst the hubbub and benignly smiling producers, a Ukrainian runner Vika (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days' Anamaria Marinca) provides the only compassionate link between the two men. But when Joe is unable to go through with his plan to claim his "five minutes of heaven", Alistair is compelled to return to the scene of the crime and face an alternate form of justice.

Pitch-perfect performances and an incredibly powerful first two acts do a lot to make up for the film's loss of momentum towards the end. Nesbitt manages to bring humour to his portrayal of a stressed and vengeful Joe, while Neeson balances these histrionics with his characteristic compassion. Hirschbiegel confidently handles the dialogue driven drama as well as realistic moments of violence, and described the film as "quite a tense ride about something that matters." The humanity Hirschbiegel holds for his subjects is perhaps derived from an innate understanding of vergangenheitsbewältigung, the German idea for 'struggling to come to terms with the past'. Indeed, Five Minutes of Heaven is a gripping character study of two men imprisoned by their troubles.

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