Fifty Dead Men Walking Made in: UK, Canada Language: English Director: Kari Skogland Starring: Ben Kingsley, Jim Sturgess, Kevin Zegers, Tom Collins, Natalie Press, William Houston, Rose McGowan Year: 2009
Based on the book by Martin McGartland
Synopsis: The year is 1988. Martin McGartland (played by Jim Sturgess) is a young Catholic living with his mother in a poverty-stricken area of Belfast, Northern Ireland. His neighborhood is wracked by sectarian violence.
On one side is the Catholic extremist paramilitary group: the infamous Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is committed to liberating the entire region by force and reuniting it with rest of Ireland.
And on the other side are the Protestant extremists with an illegal army of their own: the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The UDA, by contrast, is willing to commit acts of terror to ensure that Northern Ireland remains under British rule. With the bloodshed getting out of control, the British government sends in the military in an effort to keep the peace.
As a result, Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods are forcibly separated by soldiers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and plenty of razor wire.
Unemployed and hardened by the ever-present threat of shootings and bombings, Martin tries to make ends meet by going door to door selling stolen merchandise with the help of his friend, Sean (Kevin Zegers).
Being harassed by RUC soldiers has practically become a routine. But one day, Martin gets into a scuffle that garners the attention of Special Branch, the unit of the UK Police Service charged with national security and intelligence gathering.
Although unafraid of shooting his mouth off at the RUC, Martin has also witnessed the brutal tactics of the Irish Republican Army. Since Martin holds just as much animosity towards the militants as he does for the authorities, a Special Branch intelligence officer, code-named Fergus (Ben Kingsley), decides to recruit Martin as an informant against the IRA.
Reluctant at first, Martin eventually agrees in exchange for much needed cash. Through Sean, who is sympathetic to the militants, Martin gets close to IRA operatives by doing small but important jobs for them.
As the IRA gains more confidence in him, Martin climbs the ranks. All the while, Martin meets with Fergus and delivers intelligence that saves dozens of lives. The risks begin increasing, and Martin realizes he is putting his pregnant girlfriend, Lara (Natalie Press) in danger.
Getting caught would lead to excruciating torture, and death.
But before long, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI-5, starts asserting its own political agenda during a conflicting operation.
With Fergus as his only ally, Martin finds himself caught between one group that will not hesitate to kill him...and another that won't think twice about leaving him for dead...
The Good: Intense, thrilling, and sobering, Fifty Dead Men Walking is a well-written, harrowing drama that gives a pretty eye-opening view of the conflict that gripped Northern Ireland during the 80s. Although full of political commentary, the film is very balanced in its scathing criticism of all parties involved in the violence.
Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess are great in their respective roles as handler and informer, and the script gives them a number of well-delivered lines. The film also does an effective job of making the point that humanity, and the protection of family and community, should come before politics and blind ideology.
The Bad: As well-made as it is, major elements of Fifty Dead Men Walking are ones that any seasoned film-goer has already experienced in other crime dramas (such as gangster movies or stories involving undercover cops and double-crossings).
Yes, this movie is based on a true story, but there's a disclaimer in the beginning stating that certain names and situations have been changed from the actual events that took place. Although the film is good overall, I wondered how much of it was really true? You may find yourself asking the same question.
Who would like this movie: Fifty Dead Men Walking is for you if you like gritty, intense dramas that don't shy away from violence and profanity. It'll help greatly if you're already familiar with the conflict in Northern Ireland during the 1980s, and know about Britain's law enforcement/intelligence gathering agencies (Special Branch, Scotland Yard, MI-5, etc).
But even if you aren't, Fifty Dead Men Walking is a strong film that will at least raise some awareness of a politically complex and violent time in Northern Ireland's recent history. I certainly got more out of this movie than I did from my high school history book.