Political Film Society - Newsletter #276 - April 1, 2007

April 1, 2007

The Wind That Shakes the BarleyThe Wind That Shakes the Barley is a fictional story about some of the last years of the Irish struggle for independence. Teddy O’Donovan (played by Pedraic Delaney), an organizer of a guerrilla group in a small town far from Dublin, asks his younger brother Damien (played by Cillian Murphy), a physician, to abandon his plans to complete his residency in London in order to join the Irish Republican Army. However, as Damien says goodbye to his family, British mercenaries (the Black and Tans) assigned to suppress the independence movement make an appearance, declare that all public meetings and games are banned, and Damien is appropriately converted to the IRA cause. Indeed, much of the film establishes the rationale for independence through episodes of overbearing British, who look down on the Irish, tear out fingernails to extract intelligence, and even rough up Irish women in retaliation for their cooperation with the IRA. The subliminal reference to the way Americans have violated Iraq is unmistakable. Always keenly aware of the interaction between social classes in his movies, director Ken Loach (Political Film Society nominee for the 2001 film Bread and Roses) at one point illustrates the dilemma of an IRA eager for funds from rich Irish and an Irish court that metes out justice to a poor woman who is being ripped off by a rich moneylender, the first time when radicalized Damien differs from pragmatic Teddy. The struggle, of course, takes place during the time when Britain is involved in World War I. At the conclusion of the war, when several Eastern European states are carved out of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, London offers the Irish a peace treaty. According to the terms, which voters ratify in a referendum during 1921 without having even a day to read the fine print, an Irish Free State is to become a dominion in the British Empire. Although the IRA has sworn to establish a republic, not to swear loyalty to the King, pragmatist Teddy favors the arrangement, which he suggests could later be changed, while Damien objects that the new Irish Free State will simply become another instrument to oppress the poor, since British owners of Irish lands will have their property rights respected. Damien rejoins his IRA colleagues to launch a civil war, and soon Irish Free State troops round him up as a traitor to Ireland. (Once again, a parallel with Iraq’s civil war may occur to filmviewers.) Teddy then must contemplate whether to give the order to execute his own brother, just as he ordered the deaths of Irish who collaborated with the English in years past. When the film ends, he has made his decision. Missing at the end are titles for filmviewers who may want to know the outcome of the civil war, which lasted until 1923, and the fact that Ireland finally became a republic in 1949. The title comes from a traditional song about "foreign chains that bind us." Loach has not only been excoriated by right-wing British elements for producing a pro-IRA film, but even the leftist London daily Guardian notes dismissively that not all IRA members were socialists. The film has been nominated for a Political Film Society award as best film exposé of 2007. MH

ShooterBob Lee Swagger (played by Mark Wahlberg), whose name suggests the memory of Lee Harvey Oswald, can shoot targets at very long distances. At the beginning of Shooter, directed by Antoine Fuqua, he is a Marine Sergeant defending American troops from an ambush in the Eritrean part of Ethiopia but left for dead when the secret operation goes awry, whereupon he retires to a remote cabin in the British Columbia Rockies. Three years later, retired Colonel Isaac Johnson (played by Danny Glover) recruits him to identify where another sniper might be holed up in a plot recently uncovered to kill the president from a distance of more than a mile. But the assassin instead kills the Archbishop of Ethiopia, and Swagger becomes the FBI’s prime suspect. On the run, he is aided by a girlfriend Sarah Fenn (played by Kate Mara), widow of his partner who died in the Eritrean operation, and FBI agent Nick Memphis (played by Michael Peña), who gets a taste of Abu Ghraib-style torture due to his belief that Swagger is not the real suspect. Swagger’s mission of vengeance then is to ascertain who set up him and why. Amid the MacGyverish firepower unleashed by Swagger, the conspiracy turns out to involve several others, including cynical Montana Senator Charles F. Meachum (played by Ned Beatty), who is unusually candid about the hijacking of American politics by fat cats. Swagger learns that the Eritrea caper involved the slaughter of an entire village to frighten other villagers into accepting an oil pipeline and other dirty deeds wherein corporate America can triumph over the people. The Political Film Society has nominated Shooter for best film of 2007 highlighting the need for greater democracy. The film is based on the novel Point of Impact (1993) by Stephen Hunter. MH