[Screen It]

(2002) (James Nesbitt, Tim Pigott-Smith) (R)

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Drama: A Protestant Member of Parliament tries to stage a peaceful civil rights march and protest in Ireland as British forces arrive to stop it and arrest various troublemakers.
It's January 30, 1972 and civil rights leader Ivan Cooper (JAMES NESBITT) is trying to organize and then lead a peaceful march and protest in Derry concerning Britain's internment without trial policy that's been in place for a year. A Protestant Member of Parliament, Ivan wants things to run smoothly and thus asks the I.R.A. to stay away. He also tells the town's young men, such as Gerry Donaghy (DECLAN DUDDY) who has a Protestant girlfriend, not to cause any trouble.

The British forces, however, are preparing for the illegal march and have decided to use it as an opportunity to arrest various residents they deem to be troublemakers. Accordingly, Major General Robert Ford (TIM PIGOTT-SMITH) has arrived to make sure that the operation, run locally by Brigadier Patrick MacLellan (NICHOLAS FARRELL), is a success.

The plan is for various armed members of the first Battalion of the Parachute Regiment to ambush those on their wanted list during the parade, and as the events draws closer, they prepare for their mission. Meanwhile, local police officer Chief Supt. Lagan (GERARD McSORLEY) tries to persuade MacLellan to call off the operation, knowing it will lead to unrest and potential violence.

As Ivan and others, including Kevin McCorry (ALLAN GILDEA), Eamonn McCann (GERARD CROSSAN) and Bernadette Devlin (MARY MOULDS), lead the march through the town, a splinter group of the parade breaks off and confronts those manning a British blockade. As words and objects fly, and as the British Paras prepare for their assault, Ivan tries to maintain the peace and avoid the inevitable bloodshed that's to follow.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Being as oblivious as we often are as a nation about world events, many Americans believe that the Civil Rights movement originated and pretty much concluded within our borders back in the '60s. Sure, they may have heard of the likes of Gandhi and Mandela, but most probably don't know or understand what they were fighting for.

I'm sure that's even more true regarding activist Ivan Cooper. A Protestant Member of Parliament, Cooper set out on a quest for equal rights for Protestants and Catholics alike in Ireland during the late '60s and early '70s and wanted Britain's internment without trial policy revoked.

His organized march in Derry, Ireland on January 30, 1972 turned from a peaceful protest into a deadly massacre that became known as Bloody Sunday. Perhaps you've heard the U2 song, "Sunday, Bloody Sunday." Well, that's what it's all about.

Taking the film rather than song approach at recounting the events, writer/director Paul Greengrass ("Resurrected," "The Theory of Flight") and his mixed cast and crew have recreated the tragic day in "Bloody Sunday." A riveting, you-are-there experience, the film focuses on just that day that resulted in 13 deaths, the end of the civil rights movement there and the increased presence and related tactics of the I.R.A.

Greengrass doesn't waste any time in introducing the basic exposition, back story and key players. He then lets the events unfold as the narrative constantly alternates among various individual viewpoints and experiences of what occurs.

Shot mostly in a handheld, eyewitness fashion by cinematographer Ivan Strasburg ("Resurrected," "The Theory of Flight"), the film has an immediacy not found in most other films, save for the likes of "Saving Private Ryan" that re-popularized the storytelling format. The result is a completely mesmerizing film where one knows and senses - whether or not they're familiar with the historical events - that things are slowly coming to a boil and will soon erupt into something quite bad.

While not as graphically gripping or gross as "Ryan," the effort is still disturbing and nothing short of compelling to watch. Beyond a few occasional asides showing some personal moments, Greengrass also doesn't divert from the main thrust of the story as it rushes the viewer headfirst into the maelstrom.

James Nesbitt's ("Waking Ned Devine," "Welcome to Sarajevo") portrayal of Cooper is nothing short of terrific as we watch the character's mood and behavior transform from cautious optimism to disheartened and horrified defeat. The filmmaker parallels that character's strategies with that of the on-site British military leaders embodied by Tim Pigott-Smith ("The Four Feathers," "The Remains of the Day") and Nicholas Farrell ("Pearl Harbor," "Plunkett and Macleane"). Both are solid in their roles with one playing the cocksure and unapologetic general and the other his uncertain and regretful second in charge.

The second parallel is between that of a local troublemaker - played by newcomer Declan Duddy (whose uncle was killed in the real incident) - who's seeing a Protestant girl despite their obvious differences, and the young British soldiers who participate in and/or witness what really occurs. Various other characters are present, but are really only additional bodies - like the scores of extras - who are present to fill out the scenes.

Some may accuse Greengrass and his film of having an agenda and/or ax to grind - despite the mixed cast and crew - and I'm not familiar enough with the exact details to defend or chastise what's present and how it's presented.

Nevertheless, and despite showing both sides of the story, the film certainly takes a stand on what happened and who was to blame, and is likely to sweep non-experts along with its moving and horrifying story. The filmmaker may have missed out by not personifying the victims to a greater extent (to increase the viewer's emotional involvement in them, the story and what occurs), but perhaps he wanted to avoid any potential for melodrama or maudlin theatrics.

Yet another example of the sacrifices made by those who try to ensure equal rights for all, the film is a solidly told and streamlined cinematic experience that's nothing short of gripping. "Bloody Sunday" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed October 18, 2002 / Posted November 1, 2002

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