The Belfast Story.
The main problem with watching and reviewing a film like the Belfast Story is me. As an ex combatant, ex prisoner and Belfast born I was intrigued to watch this. I had no idea of what the film was about as my better half wanted to go and see it. I quickly realised that this was entertainment and made no pretence at being historical or factual. There was however an interesting moral underlying the whole film. More of that later.
At first I thought it was confused, disjointed and muddled. It does take time for the plot to come together and the pieces fall into place. As a loyalist ex prisoner it was with some shock that I realised that the First Minster was a Shinner. Shades of Gerry, except he’s gone south. It is interesting as a Belfaster to spot the streets and scenes used in the film. The story picks up with the slaughter of old and retried IRA combatants. As the film progresses I think of Dirty Harry meeting Star Chamber (with a bit of Seven thrown in). Maybe even shades of Bronson sorting out the bad boys. Ex justice people evening up old scores with a bit of violent retaliation. The killings are too slick and well organised to be loyalist so it has to be the army or the police. Note to film makers- portrayal of scenes without any witnesses or passers-by are very far from reality. I did not think that the new political make up of N. Ireland was clear until too late in the film. The police are too flat and unrealistic in this film. The main man Detective played by Colin Meaney is a good enough character but why bring in old school RUC to investigate IRA men getting bumped off? As I said above the film is entertainment and a bit of ‘what if..’ The film is not centred primarily on combatants but rather victims. Victims who stand up in an extreme way which Is not unlike the female victim portrayed in Lynch’s Menin gate. Victims, ex combatants, the legacy. It’s a unresolved minefield and a difficult subject to tackle so some credit to Mr Todd for trying.
I felt the underlying message was around morality and the never ending question of right and wrong. Were the executed rebels in 1916 right or wrong in their initial actions? If political events and people voting dictate what is right then they surely had the moral authority to oust what they seen as an invading force – the British. But politics, like morality, is never simple. This story is different in that, it is not the old British vs Irish thing or nationalist vs unionist. The twist comes late on and changes the whole dynamic of the story. (It comes at an appropriate time when ‘Slab’ is about to get some block therapy.) The people eliminating the old IRA activists are ordinary Catholics who have suffered under the PIRA organisation while the Shinners took the moral high ground as they fought the British. So an unusual victim slant, and one as far as I know, has not been covered before, in this way. I wonder what the American audience will make of this?
The film revolves, for me, around one of the last lines of dialogue in the film when one of the killers is explaining his rationale to the detective in a letter. He feels he would rather go and kill the killers, the terrorists, rather than let his son think that it’s OK to kill and maim–and then walk around as if nothing bad happened. However, we are back to the basic ‘eye for an eye’ argument. And if the IRA violence was wrong and nasty, why are the new killers doing it? Is straight revenge ever justified? Is that not a bad example for ones children? If something is wrong then it is wrong. And there’s the rub. Morality is not absolute. Applying in all cases, at all times and situations. It doesn’t. Morality is fluid in the real world. In N. Ireland. In all conflicts. There is no better example today than that of Syria. Killing people by nerve gas including children is reprehensible. But America and the UK would not do one thing about it because Russia stands behind Syria. More like realism than idealism. The real shocker for unionists comes right at the end. There is a United Ireland. Children play together and we all live happy ever after. I love happy endings.