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Bloody Sunday  Print E-mail
DVD Drama
Written by Bill Warren   
Tuesday, 22 April 2003



title:
Bloody Sunday


studio:
Paramount Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: James Nesbitt, Allan Gildea, Gerard Crossan, Mary Moulds, Carmel McCallion, Tim Pigott-Smith, Nicholas Farrell, Christopher Villiers, James Hewitt, Declan Duddy
release year: 2002
film rating: Four and half stars
sound/picture: Four stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

On January 30, 1972, Protestant member of the Ulster parliament, organized a largely Catholic civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland. The British Army had authority to shut down the march, but through a series of confusing misunderstandings, began firing on the marchers. Fourteen were killed outright, 20-some were wounded, and one died later. The path to peace in Ireland had been rocky and uncertain, but progress was slow -- and reversed because of this incident. It's hard to imagine an act that could have been more bloodthirsty and destructive. Enlistments in the IRA jumped, and bombs began going off in England and elsewhere.

To this day, just what happened has been unclear. The Army swore that they were fired upon, and that nail bombs were thrown, but people who were at the march denied both charges. (The movie shows very scant gunfire from the ranks of the marchers, but even that is well after the Army opened fire.) England's reaction was arrogant and imperial: the soldiers received medals, and backs were officially turned upon any other inquiry. However, in the last several years, a board of inquiry has been convened, and even now is studying this black day. It is highly significant that the writer-director and producer of this film are both English. It is an attempt to answer questions, and to place Bloody Sunday in the context of the past.

Paul Greengrass, whose previous films have rarely, if ever, been shown in the United States, is a young Englishman who clearly was shaken by Bloody Sunday, and who has found a remarkably effective way of depicting the incident, with some of the confusion and uncertainty that arose still intact.

The film is made in the form of a caught-on-the-run documentary. The camera is always hand-held, there are no artificial lights, and takes are often long and unbroken. A script was written, but the actors were encouraged to improvise on the basis of the script, working their way back, in a sense, to the text.

The result is a film that is well-organized, well-acted but which remains disturbingly real. Once you give over to its unusual rhythms and occasionally confusing style, it's remarkably powerful and gripping, at times seeming to be real and not a movie made 30 years after the events it depicts.

James Nesbitt plays Ivan Cooper, the organizer of the march, a politician who devoutly believes in the power of non-violence to effect changes without bloodshed. We follow Cooper through about 24 hours of this terrible day, though while he's the center, the film is not told from his point of view. There are occasional cutaways to the Army, crouching behind barricades; the "paras" (paratroopers) are almost eager to go to battle with the peaceful marchers, while Major-General Ford (Tim Pigott-Smith) is urging them on. He's just arrived from England, and feels that the protesters have to be shown who's boss. Brigadier Maclellan (Nicholas Farrell), who's stationed in Derry, is less convinced that an armed confrontation is the answer, and is inclined to listen to police Chief Superintendent Lagan (Gerard McSorley), who desperately hopes that no action directed at the marchers will take place.

Among the marchers are young men in their late teens to early twenties, who are eager to get into a minor conflict -- they want to throw stones, which they know the Army usually simply shrugs off. They don't know that the Army regards them as "hooligans;" on one of the commentary tracks, we learn something the film cannot tell us, that the Army believed that the "hooligans" were trained and backed by the IRA. They weren't -- in the morning, before the deaths.

We follow one of the young men, Gerry Donaghy (Declan Duddy, a relative of the real first fatality); he's been in trouble with the law, and wants very much to stay out of trouble, but he's caught up in the rush of events.

As are we. The pacing of the movie, swift to start with, increases in pace and intensity. Cooper convinces the other leaders of the march (who include Bernadette Devlin) to change their plans, and not march on to the Guildhall, where the army is waiting. Instead, they turn right and march toward a park -- but some of the rowdy young men insist on heading toward the Guildhall. And that's when things become very intense, and finally bloody. (A note: Cooper passes a theater showing the real movie "Sunday Bloody Sunday." This isn't a wry acknowledgment of a film with a similar title -- that movie actually was playing in Derry on January 30th, 1972.)

The cinema-verite style of the film makes it occasionally hard to follow what's going on, but that's rare -- and accurately reflects the events of the day. Even those directly in them, separated by short distances, were confused and panicked by what was going on. Faux-documentaries are rarely this stringent, this convincing. It's hard to turn away from the film.

But is it telling the truth? As near as can be told now, it is. It's derived from the book "Eyewitness: Bloody Sunday" by Don Mullan, who was fifteen when he marched in that procession. He's also a co-producer of the film, and has a small part as a priest. He narrates one of the two commentary tracks, both of which are excellent. His focuses on the historical events more than the other, which is shared by Paul Greengrass and James Nesbitt, who talk more about how the film was made -- but both tracks do focus on the history.

There are also a couple of documentaries; one is especially worthwhile, a brief tour of the location of Bloody Sunday in Derry, with the real Ivan Cooper and James Nesbitt, the actor who plays him. The other documentary consists of interviews with the cast and crew, interspersed with behind the scenes footage and clips from the film. One of the surprising facts revealed is that the film was shot far from Derry, in Dublin. After the real Bloody Sunday, Derry was extensively rebuilt; slums were replaced by more reasonable economy housing, and many buildings were torn down. There is a marker, which Cooper shows us, with the names of those killed on this shocking day.

Even with all the history of violence between those for Irish nationalism and the British, Bloody Sunday was a surprising catastrophe, an event that was so grisly it's hard to believe it could happen in a western country. But it did, and England paid the price for letting it happen, and for not even considering punishing those who went across the line.

This DVD is packed -- it even features two soundtracks for the film, one the American-release version, the other the one shown in the British Isles. (There's no clue as to what the differences are, and listening to a few minutes of each is no help.) The documentaries, the commentary tracks, all add up to a fascinating view of the courageous people who got through the real Bloody Sunday, and the courage of those who have made the movie "Bloody Sunday."

more details
sound format:
English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
aspect ratio(s):
letterboxed (16X9 enhanced)
special features: Many extras, two commentary tracks, two documentaries, etc.
comments: email us here...
   
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR








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