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50 Dead Men Walking
Original title: Fifty Dead Men Walking
Genre Thriller
Year: 2008
 
Review:

Fifty Dead Men Walking has got to be one of the most over-rated films of 2009. Jim Sturgess, the guy that looks like a young Paul McCartney from Across the Universe, stars as Martin McGartland in this gritty real-life action thriller set in Belfast. Fifty Dead Men Walking is based on the book of the same title by Nicholas Davies and Martin McGartland, which tells the incredible true story of McGartland, who was recruited by British Police to spy on the IRA in the late 1980s, saving lives in the process by feeding critical information back to his handler. It's directed by Kari Skogland (The Stone Angel) in her latest action/thriller feature film since Men with Guns, after dabbling with true crime stories in TV movies like Rapid Fire.

The man on the run and double agent story has been played to death, and Fifty Dead Men Walking called for a fresh rather than the tried-and-tested approach. Skogland dresses the film up in retro cool '80s grit, from questionable hairstyles and Rovers to Ben Kingsley's wig... Fifty Dead Men Walking certainly has style. The tension is palpable as McGartland treads a fine line between doing odd jobs for the British Police and working his way into the IRA, without doing too much damage. Bravery or foolishness, the young lad risks his own life and that of his family and friends in order to meter out some level of damage control. It's basically a tightrope act, taking the likable character of Martin, played by Sturgess and keeping him bobbing for air.

Fifty Dead Men Walking gives a real sense of "the troubles" in Ireland with a dim, toned down view of the city. We saw the same dynamic in Scorsese's The Departed as Leonardo DiCaprio tries to stay on top of things. The performances are decent from the lead actors with Sturgess playing a convicing young McGartland in a role that seems like a mixture between Control and In The Name of the Father. Kingsley's experience adds some backbone to the production, but it really is the 'Everybody Loves Jim' show.

The accents are thick, too thick in fact, because without subtitles... it's very difficult to make sense of what's really going on. Fifty Dead Men Walking sounds like a zombie film and perhaps going the zombie route would have given it the fresh perspective it needed to deliver something that feels wholly original. The sluggish pace, mumbled lines and commitment to retro cool wash over the audience, alienating the viewer, without giving us enough background on what's really going on in Belfast. Fifty Dead Men Walking is made for an Irish audience, who will have a firm history to pin the characters in and a wealth of experience when it comes to deciphering the language.

The film isn't rooted in translating an accurate retelling of McGartland's story so much as its about delivering a solid thriller. However, its difficult to get into the film without understanding the dialogue, without having any entry points for identification with the protagonist and without a clear comprehension of the predicament Martin McGartland finds himself in. It's like being given one piece of a 1000-piece puzzle and being asked to explain the big picture.

The torture scenes don't really add any entertainment value and only serve to vilify the IRA more intimately, beyond the damage caused by "anonymous" explosions. Fifty Dead Men Walking isn't as deep as it thinks it is and makes itself too exclusive for audiences to feel like they're actually there. It's as satisfying as watching a public execution from behind a dark pane of glass and never really feels like its going anywhere. This reviewer gave Fifty Dead Men Walking a good fifty minutes of his time before walking out... Perhaps the film drastically improved at the 50 minute mark? Perhaps it all came right in one blinding moment of cinematic genius? Whatever happened, it's not worth waiting through the preview trailers and halfway through the film to find out.

The bottom line: Incomprehensible.

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