I am loathe to discount any female director who has the tenacity to direct an action picture. The mere fact that Kari Skogland managed to get this little film financed (piecemeal, through about seven different production companies) is a testament to her sheer cajones. But just the fact that Skogland’s feat is impressive, does not mean her film is.
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Jim Sturgess, Kevin Zegers
Runtime: 117 minutes
“Fifty Dead Men Walking,” a film that’s supremely loosely-based on a young punk in Belfast who becomes an informer for the British government during the Troubles, is deeply flawed.
The young punk in question is Martin (Jim Sturgess) who leaves his job selling stolen goods to the Catholic side of town, and becomes a British spy against the IRA. Sturgess shows a bit more acting prowess than usual. He’s got the appropriate amount of wiry energy and attention deficit you’d expect from a young man out of his depth.
However, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if your name is not Paul Greengrass, stay away from hand-held cameras. Skogland utilizes them quite a bit for the chaotic action scenes, but “Bloody Sunday,” this movie ain’t. The brutal terrorism scenes have significant energy, but it’s not directed or clearly defined. The beauty of Greengrass’ films is that no matter how messy the scene gets you still know exactly know what you’re looking at.
Problems abound, the plot is hastily sketched and badly steered, and most of the characters we’re supposed to care about are so broadly drawn it’s impossible to relate to them. The talented Natalie Press as Martin’s girlfriend carries the traditional actress’ burden of saying things like “When you leave, I don’t know if you’re coming back.” And Rose McGowan is completely wasted as IRA intelligence expert Grace. Besides tossing her fluorescent red hair and seducing us with her wild colleen ways, she really doesn’t seem capable of anything much, much less brokering intricate deals with Iranian arms dealers.
Where Skogland’s movie really shines are the moments between Martin and Fergus. It’s established that Fergus has no relationship with his son, while Martin has no father, and as Fergus sends him deeper and deeper into enemy territory, he paradoxically becomes more and more protective of him. In one of the few humanizing scenes in the film, the two share a cup of Irished-up coffee while keeping vigil over Martin’s new baby.
As a person who spent quite a bit of time in Northern Ireland, it was certainly nice to see a genuine and loving portrait of Belfast. There is a pretty overdone sex scene on top of the Europa Hotel, but though Skogland may not have the golden touch with action scenes, she generally has a wonderful eye for places; Belfast’s gritty, war-like personality shines through in “Fifty Dead Men.” It’s just a shame the plot couldn’t shine in the same way.