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last update 8.Nov.07
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Battle for Haditha   4/5   SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
battle for haditha Broomfield's documentary style adds a naturalistic tone to this gruelling true drama. It's a little preachy, but it's also remarkably intense and even-handed.

A group of Marines heads into Haditha with too much rah-rah jingoism ringing in their ears. In his exhausted state, their leader Ramirez (Ruiz) doesn't have the mental stamina to calm his men down. Meanwhile, two secular Muslims (Bytrus and Flayeh) set up a roadside bomb, desperately trying to do something for their country, even if it means helping the dodgy fundamentalists strike at the occupying army. In the background, a young couple (Hanani and Ghaieb) joins in a family celebration, refusing to give in to the violence on either side of them.

This is based on a 2005 event in which US soldiers killed 24 innocent Iraqi men, women and children after one Marine died in a bombing, then covered it up, claiming the dead were enemy combatants. Broomfield intimately explores characters and situations, cranking up Hitchcockian levels of tension. With the bomb blast, a sequence of horrific events unfurls that's difficult to due to the sheer inhumanity on display.

The non-professional cast give the characters a spark of raw energy, humour and even sensuality. There's also a strong sense of everyday life for these people, and a powerful camaraderie between them, underscored by various tensions both within and outside the relationships. And the script doesn't shy away from the complicated religious issues on all sides of the story, although some of the dialog sounds more like a sermon than conversation.

By showing us all sides of the story, Broomfield clearly isolates the real villains as extremists on either side who use their pawns--the soldiers and local mercenaries--to do their dirty work, claiming victory despite the fact that no one is actually winning. Besides the hideous cycle of mindless revenge, the saddest thing is that everyone is pushed to ignore their conscience and do unthinkable things. And the ferocious overreaction of the soldiers is by far the most unthinkable, indefensible action, condoned and whitewashed by the cowardly officers who order it then offer up the foot-soldiers as scapegoats.

dir Nick Broomfield
scr Nick Broomfield, Marc Hoeferlin, Anna Telford
with Elliot Ruiz, Yasmine Hanani, Duraid A Ghaieb, Oliver Bytrus, Falah Abraheem Flayeh, Jase Willette, Nathan DelaCruz, Matthew Knoll, Eric Mehalacopoulos, Andrew McLaren, Joe Chacon, Ali Adill Al-kaanan Desher
ruiz release UK 1.Feb.08
07/UK F4 1h33

london film fest
18 themes, language, violence, grisliness
29.Oct.07 lff
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Boy A   4/5  
boy a This is a story we might imagine behind the headlines. By forcing us to confront our attitudes through such engaging characters, the filmmakers create something truly powerful.

After spending most of his life in prison for murder, a 21-year-old (Garfield) is released in the care of his social worker Terry (Mullan) and offered a new life and a new name: Jack. He gets a job with an Edinburgh delivery company, befriends a colleague (Evans) and dates one of the secretaries (Lyons)--all of these things are his first forays into the adult world. And Terry is worried that his true identity will be exposed, sparking vigilante violence toward a kid the press has labelled as "pure evil".

Jack's back story is revealed very slowly as the film progresses, with brief flashbacks that eventually knit themselves into a stark narrative of the fatal events. But by the time we fully understand, we are well aware that Jack is not the same kid he was back then. Society's braying for vengeance feels barbaric. Do concepts of revenge and justice mean that he shouldn't be allowed to start his life over? Can an impressionable young boy commit an unforgivable sin?

This approach smartly takes us beyond our instant reaction to the situation, plunging us into the moral quandary of Jack's past, present and future. And it works even more forcefully with characters this vivid and sympathetic. Garfield delivers a textured performance that seems to start deep inside and worm its way out of his unconfident body as the story progresses. His interaction with Terry and his new friends is full of every kind of possibility, including the constant threat of danger.

And the filmmakers also lace the story with several layers of irony. Jack's act of quiet heroism is the thing that might reveal his past; Terry's work beyond the call to help this needy kid is what drives a wedge between him and his own troubled son (Young). And as Jack gets close to people, his real struggle is that he can never be fully honest with the people he loves. It's a wrenching, moving story that forces us to examine our where our compassion ends and our prejudice begins.

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
Kallie Wilbourn, online: "So affecting! The performances (especially that of Boy A) were superb. The film's message that human society does not forgive certain acts was both devastating and accurate, and one cannot imagine social compassion evolving to consider that people do have a capacity to change. As such, society remains as violent as the acts it claims to deplore. Is there hope for a species that cannot forgive?" (10.Aug.12)
dir John Crowley
scr Mark O'Rowe
with Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Shaun Evans, Katie Lyons, James Young, Jeremy Swift, Anthony Lewis, Alfie Owen, Jessica Mullins, Skye Bennett
garfield release UK Oct.07 lff,
US 18.Jul.08
07/UK F4 1h40

london film fest
15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
31.Oct.07 lff
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Exodus   2.5/5
exodus This film boldly adapts the Old Testament story to near-future Britain, where displaced people are trying to find justice. Unfortunately, while the film looks great, the plot gets lost along the way.

As an infant, Moses (Percival) arrived by raft in an England gripped by the political campaign of the right-wing Pharaoh Mann (Hill), whose solution to immigration is to round up everyone of foreign extraction into a disused Margate amusement park called Dreamland. Moses' mother (Jugati) gives him to Mann's wife (Ryan), who raises him as a son. After he grows up and falls for their maid Zipporah (Ashitey), who lives in Dreamland, a series of events reveal his true past, spurring him to urge his dad to let his people go. By any means necessary.

The film's human-faced examination of the roots of terrorism is fascinating, leaving motivations open to interpretation. But this theme strangely unbalances the source story, taking it into a very different place that's rather ugly, as it's impossible to say who's the more evil one here--the oppressive reactionary politician or the murderous revolutionary.

Woolcock films this on an epic scale (the Dreamland scenes were part of a local mass performance art installation), which gives the entire film a sense of power and history, as well as drawing on the relevance to contemporary events. The burning man sequence is seriously impressive and very provocative. And on a smaller scale, the story is packed with tiny details that make it vivid and intriguing, such as Moses' strong camaraderie with children.

So it's a shame that once this intriguing premise is set up, the film feels like it has nowhere to go. The biblical story is abandoned for a muddled thriller that doesn't really hold together in any meaningful way. And while staging the plagues as acts of terrorism (poisoning the water supply with red algae, unleashing a frog-like computer virus) is a cool idea, it's not hugely convincing in this context. Key characters appear and disappear at random, and Woolcock seems unsure about what the final message should be. It's a brave, audacious bit of filmmaking, so it's a pity it doesn't really work.

dir-scr Penny Woolcock
with Daniel Percival, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Bernard Hill, Ger Ryan, Delroy Moore, Anthony Johnson, Katerina Jugati, Matthew Smith, Dritan Kastrati, Jean Stanley, Michelle Lam, Troy Stewart-Williams
percival and ashitey release UK Oct.07 lff
07/UK Film4 1h51

london film fest
15 themes, language, violence, drugs
8.Oct.07 lff
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Garage   3.5/5
garage From the makers of the understated comedy Adam & Paul, this even darker film is a beautifully observed character study, with a fine central performance and a haunting series of small events.

Josie (Shortt) works in a run-down garage on the outskirts of a small Irish town. He's a bit slow, but obsessively organised enough to do his job well. With a rise in passing trade, his boss (Keogh) hires the 15-year-old David (Ryan) to work with him. Josie's alienated by the guys in the local pub, so he's happy to have some friendly company, and doesn't see any harm in offering David a beer after work. He also senses a spark of interest in the local shop clerk (Duff). But Josie's perceptions aren't terribly accurate.

Abrahamson tells this story with a slice-of-life approach so gentle that we begin to wonder if anything momentous will happen at all. Yet it's thoroughly engaging; we feel for Josie as struggles to figure out his place in this community. As we get to know him, we begin to see his weaknesses, and we realise that it's his innocence and naivetÈ that are likely to cause problems. Shortt plays this to perfection, with a finely detailed performance that never feels remotely obvious.

It's in Josie's interaction with a number of people that the story begins to take shape. Watching him treat everyone the same, whether they're helpful or cruel, old or young, is fascinating. And it's captured with a muted energy by the grey-toned cinematography and moody editing. Much of the film is completely still, and yet all kinds of things are going on in the frame.

Can Josie connect with anyone emotionally? Maybe not, but he tries. Does He realise that his life is going nowhere? Probably, and yet he continues with a sense of pride in his work and a dedication even to the pointless details. Does he realise that he has crossed some significant boundaries with the people he cares about? Definitely, but not quite in time to adjust his behaviour. It's a surprisingly complex film that allows us to identify with an unusual man at the point where his life changes forever.

dir Leonard Abrahamson
scr Mark O'Halloran
with Pat Shortt, Anne-Marie Duff, Conor Ryan, John Keogh, Don Wycherley, Andrew Bennett, Denis Conway, George Costigan, Tom Hickey, Una Kavanagh, Jason Nelligan
shortt and ryan release Ire 5.Oct.07,
UK 7.Mar.08
07/Ireland Film4 1h25

london film fest
18 themes, language, sexuality
4.Oct.07 lff
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall