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Fifty Dead Men Walking

Things were about as bad as they got in Belfast, Northern Ireland (which is to say, pretty bad) in 1988 when native son Martin McGartland, a petty crook who made a living selling stolen goods door-to-door, was recruited by the British government to infiltrate the IRA as their spy. He got away with his life, but just barely: He now lives in hiding in Canada, where he survived an assassination attempt in 1999. This feature film by Kari Skogland, a Canadian director who presented her drama The Stone Angel at the Albright-Knox last year, is credited as “inspired by” McGartland’s 1997 memoir, a phrase that connotes a lesser degree of fidelity than “adapted from.” McGartland himself has stated that the film is “as near to the truth as Earth is to Pluto.”

Not having read his book, I would guess his objections arise from efforts Skogland makes to stay neutral on the “the Troubles.” She seems more interested in telling a story about the futility of struggles like this where the antagonists are more similar than different, and heaven knows there are no lack of those in the world. (Whether the film means to comment on other such conflicts is open to interpretation.)

Fifty Dead Men Walking is thus unlikely to please audiences who have a strong opinion on either side of the debate, though others may appreciate it as a thriller that is loud and flashy enough to carry you through some rather thick accents. McGartland is played by Jim Sturgess with enough youthful cockiness to mitigate the script’s vagueness about his motivations for getting involved in a conflict for which he seems to have no concern. His scenes with Ben Kingsley as the British Special Branch officer who guides him are the best parts of a film which may be too subtle for action audiences and too uncommitted for others.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Fifty Dead Men Walking

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