Five Minutes of Heaven (2009) – Review

Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt star in Five Minutes of Heaven...

Oliver Hirschbiegel isn’t a film-maker known for low budget BBC films about low-level civil wars in Northern Ireland. His previous works include Downfall and Das Experiment, both German films that have gained critical acclaim since their retrospective release, after all. But now for his next trick. To handle the murder of 19 year-old Jim Griffin and the fictional meeting that occurred between Jim’s brother Joe and Jim’s murderer Alistair Little 33 years later.

Set in Northern Ireland during a small civil war in 1975, Alastair Little, played by Liam Neeson in his later years, is a 17 year-old boy looking to earn the respect he craves from his counterparts. So when an opportunity comes along for him to earn such respect by murdering James Griffin as a warning to others, he takes no hesitation in pulling the trigger, only for the incident to be witnessed by James’s younger brother Joe, played by James Nesbitt.

Some years later, a reconciliation is planned between the two men who agree to meet face-to-face and shake hands, as Little has now served his time in prison for crimes committed. Little is eager to make amends with Joe, but Joe has other, more sinister plans. Neeson and Nesbitt portray the broken men who are unable to let go of their pasts very well. The entire film is an acting showcase, but Neeson and Nesbitt both deliver convincing and heart-breaking performances.

The film does of course have a television movie feeling to it, and it’s not surprising considering it was broadcast on BBC Two just months after its theatrical release. Such effect adds to the realism and grittiness of both the setting and performances. Much in the style of Shane Meadow’s Dead Man’s Shoes, also featuring a man who cannot deal with his grief after the death of a loved one, the film feels incredibly accurate, as if you are on set with the characters; when they feel pain, you feel pain. Credit and commendation must go to David Holmes, whose score for the film is superb, successfully creating tension and drama where needed, especially in the stand-off scene in the movie.

Best scene: Where Alastair is waiting for Joe to enter the room to meet him.
Best performance: Nesbitt and Neeson are both excellent, but it’s Neeson who edges it.

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