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Bloody Sunday | Review

Derry Queen

Greengrass introduces us to chaos theory.

When I hear the words “Bloody Sunday”, I think of the popular drumbeats of U2’s classic song, but after watching writer-director Paul Greengrass’ break-out film about the historical clash of 72’, I can finally put a face to what the one-dimensional history textbooks couldn’t provide and to Bono’s lyrics which I couldn’t decipher. With a cinema that encapsulates a pure, raw energy, Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday, which shared the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, overpoweringly captures the mayhem of the tragic events in United Kingdom’s history.

Jan. 30, 1972. In this Northern Irish city, one Protestant member of Parliament Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt-Waking Ned Devine) leads a Martin Luther King-like march- a demonstration for freedom of rights. On the other side of the fence, Queen commissioned armed soldiers are waiting eagerly for the shark feeding frenzy to begin. When the march finally occurs-the protests turn into rioting- the unbeatable high for many hooligans, except that a couple of crazed army brats have taken the safety clip off and the innocent end up as casualties of this guerilla street war. From the crack of dawn to the bloody aftermath-this drama covers the ascension of events of this one day; Greengrass obliges the viewer to look at the pot long enough until it finally boils over.

Nesbitt is absolutely brilliant in the role of a charismatic, vocally-charged and emotionally passionate man who is shown to be all over the place all in one time. Piercing telephone rings, thumbs-up words of encouragement and constant negotiations follows this believer of good faith in every corner of the town, and when day turns into night he becomes this courageous figure without a clue. The narrative is set up in such a way that we get both perspectives in a continual progression of events. As the story thickens- the changes in viewpoints rapidly bombard the viewer-going from the almost tranquil heart of the manifestation to the chief tactical and communications centre command post to the confusion between the hooligans and those behind enemy lines. There is a true sense of realism that is captured on the celluloid; Greengrass camerawork is almost like documentary footage; with a fly on the wall account that gets right in there with the tear gas and the thrown stones. This approach combined with a jittery hand-held camera puts the viewer right in the middle of the battle.

Bloody Sunday combines high octane drama with camera work that builds up the tension of this political dispute. Greengrass’ arsenal of filmmaking techniques gives the viewer a painted red canvas that provides us one of the year’s most powerful, gut-wrenching, accomplished and compelling feature.

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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