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'Bloody Sunday'

'Sunday' accurately recalls start of Ireland's modern ills

Saturday, October 26, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

What's the one dreary, disgusting connection between Northern Ireland and the D.C. Beltway sniper shootings? It's that hostile men with guns are always trying to "send a message."

The surprising thing, in the Irish case known as Bloody Sunday, is that the message as well as the bullets that killed 13 unarmed civil-rights demonstrators came from the police -- who had set a pre-demonstration "target" of 500 arrests.

 
 
"Bloody Sunday"

dot.gif Rating: R for violence and language

dot.gif Starring: James Nesbitt, Declan Duddy, Nicholas Farrell, Tim Pigott-Smith, Kathy Kiera Clarke

dot.gif Director: Paul Greengrass

dot.gif Critic's call:

   
 

"Bloody Sunday," directed by Paul Greengrass, is a chilling hour-by-hour account of the Londonderry events of Jan. 30, 1972, the day when the modern Irish troubles turned into a renewed civil war.

Filmed in an intensely neo-realistic style, the story is rendered by hand-held cameras following three key participants from dawn to dusk: Protestant MP Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), an idealistic march organizer opposed to the government's internment-without-trial policy; Gerry Donaghy (Declan Duddy), a 17-year-old Catholic rebel; and Brigadier Patrick MacLellan (Nicholas Farrell), the British Army commander under heavy pressure and clear instructions to "stop" the march.

Derry's citizens on both sides were full of conflicting plans, and the fateful day was full of confusion. It has taken Britain and Ireland 30 years of multiple investigations to sort it all out. Presenting the whole picture in a coherent manner was director Greengrass' first daunting challenge. Doing it fairly was the second.

He is successful on both counts, thanks to a clear script and a savvy use of maps and police briefings. The scenes are truncated but impressionistic, conveying mood as well as strategy: Cooper breaks up an early scuffle here, charms a cop there. Donaghy wakes up, kisses his girlfriend goodbye, sets off for the barricades. Rubber bullets are discussed at command headquarters.

Bitter young veteran soldiers of Belfast have other plans, summed up by the phrase we've been hearing a lot lately: "Give war a chance."

All of the acting is naturalistically fine. As the cat-calling turns to stone-throwing and the stone-throwing to shooting, the crowd "battle" scenes (filmed in Dublin) become increasingly, traumatically real.

Greengrass calls it "a war film about the struggle for peace," reminiscent of Pontecorvo's great "Battle of Algiers" (1965), and it is sadly, grimly, extremely well made.

That "message" sent by the military was loud and powerful, all right: It served to recruit thousands of violent new IRA members -- as war always does when "given a chance."

The most poignant symbolic touch in "Bloody Sunday" is the casting of 17-year-old Derry high-school student Declan Duddy. His real-life uncle, Jackie Duddy, was killed on the real Bloody Sunday in 1972 -- at age 17.

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