The film itself was more than 10 years in the making, as production companies were nervous about such a deeply unsettling subject. But the tenaciousness of Keenan, McCarthy and Furse shows in the film's singular, focussed vision. Not only is it based on firsthand accounts, but Keenan and McCarthy were involved at every stage, making sure it was as accurate as possible and working with the actors to portray their story. Interestingly, the narrative is pared down to its essence; the books also document their encounters with other hostages, but the film never brings anyone else in, tightly locking on the central duo. And the result is powerful and haunting.
Hart and Roache are astonishing--raw and exposed, bristling with anger and fear, righteous outrage against their captors and years of religious and political prejudice against each other. They show all of this on screen with very little dialog at all. And when they do speak it's even more revelatory, cutting through surfaces and never taking a cinematic way out of a difficult situation. This is sensitive and remarkably astute filmmaking, expertly directed on a simple scale and written with insight and humour that really helps the themes sink in. It's also worth noting how the script refuses to vilify the kidnappers; these terrorists are complex young men who are sometimes kind and funny, sometimes brutal and horrific. And usually just as confused as their prisoners. This is both an valuable movie about the world's political situation and a vital cinematic document. But more importantly, it's a deeply moving and unforgettable story about an unlikely and indelible bond between two men.
dir John Furse
scr John Furse, Brian Keenan
with Ian Hart, Linus Roache, Mohamad Chamas, Ziad Lahoud, Fadi Sakr, Aisling O’Neill, Dany El Khoury, Bassem Breish, Mohamad Karim Koleilat, Aine Ni Mhuiri, Patrick Rocks, Tom Maguire
release UK 9.Apr.04
Cellmates: Hart and Roache
Mark Kidel, Bristol, England: "This is a really original film, sensitive handling of a very difficult film. Escapes all of the Hollywood cliches, and makes you think about the issues involved. Looks marvellous, without looking like a promo or ad. The actors' performances are exceptional. A must see for anyone interested in serious film." (25.Feb.04)
Katerina, Oxford: "I found the film utterly boring. I was attracted to go and see it because of its political content but in the end of the film this was not made clear enough in my opinion so the whole film seemed rather pointless: two men in a cage that initially do not like each other but they end up being friends through a series of bullying and beatings. Something can be said about the actors though: I think they both did a great job given the script they had to work on. The film would have benefited enormously if more footage from the ongoing political situation outside the two men's cells was shown (e.g. Thatcher is shown talking at one point in the beginning but then almost nothing to show what is happening around)." (2.May.04)
Diana Woollard, Aberdeen: "Deeply moving -- lots of silence, and a repeated image of a candle snuffing out. Clearly no film, or indeed book, can really communicate what it was like to live in captivity in such appalling conditions over such a long period; nevertheless this film goes a long way. The core of the film is the relationship between the two men: Keenan is prickly at first, deeply aware of the irony of having gone to Lebanon to get away from the situation in Northern Ireland; McCarthy more fragile but with a sense of fun which sparks across the space between to meet Keenan’s spikiness. As they play and talk, and interact with their captors, they develop a profound loyalty and each find the strength to support the other. At the very beginning of the film we have seen Keenan in the classroom with his English students making the distinction between the words funny and witty: 'The Englishman is funny,' he says, 'He makes me laugh. The Irishman is witty, he makes me think.' Despite the irony of the fact that Keenan, though brought up a Protestant, is a Republican with a green passport, while posh English McCarthy’s father was an Irishman from County Kerry, this aperçu is very applicable to these two men, who forged an unsentimental but deeply loving relationship in the most difficult of circumstances." (9.May.04)
Suzanne Collins, Sydney: "This is a movie which succeeds in showing the hostage story with utterly convincing realism. The discipline of the direction and the lack of self-indulgence in the cinematography echoes the confined conditions under which Keenan and McCarthy survived for four and a half years. The triumph of this powerful and moving film lies in its refusal to demonise the captors, and to balance moments of intense suffering with humour, and a surprising lightness of touch. The portrayal of the unlikely friendship and its redemptive power is finely drawn and superbly performed by Ian Hart and Linus Roache. The moment of their reunion is the emotional climax of the film. Not to be missed." (22.Jun.04)