I am no fan of Director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s plodding, by-the-numbers “Downfall” (2004) but at least it spawned one of the great You Tube memes of all-time. “Five Minutes of Heaven” (2009) spawns nothing but eighty-nine minutes of tedium.
16-year-old Irish Protestant Alistair Little is looking to make a name for himself in the Ulster Volunteer Force. He’s thrilled to get his first assignment, the assassination of Catholic teenager Jim Griffen. Little completes the job with ease, but the murder is witnessed by Jim’s little brother Joe.
Joe carries the trauma with him thirty years later when the film picks up the action again. A television news program has arranged for Joe to meet with his brother’s killer in what they hope will be a ratings bonanza. On the drive to the meeting place, it’s apparent that Joe (James Nesbitt) hasn’t moved on much in the past three decades. He relives the murder and its aftermath, including his mother’s unhinged accusation that the 11-year-old should have stopped it: “You killed your brother!” Joe, rehearsing his response to Alistair, says “I didn’t kill him like she said I did. It was you.” Guy Hibbert’s script isn’t big on subtext.
Alistair (Liam Neeson), by contrast, has undergone a very public rehabilitation. After serving prison time for the murder, he has repented and works as a speaker trying to prevent other young men from following in his footsteps. Joe’s bitterness is only fueled by the degree that Alistair has been embraced by a public eager for reconciliation. As he says, people can’t wait to shake a killer’s hand. We figure out pretty quickly that reconciliation is the last thing on Joe’s mind.
Neeson’s character is based on the real Alistair Little who did shoot Jim Griffen and has since repented, but the meeting with his victim’s younger brother Joe is a fictional conceit. Apparently, Hibbert interviewed both the real Little and Joe Griffen while constructing the screenplay. Unfortunately the research doesn’t lend much plausibility to the film.
The film, which feels more like a two-man stage play, is wall-to-wall talk except for an incongruous climactic fight scene. The melodrama is blunt and unconvincing. Like every other scene in the film, Joe’s confrontation with his wife is pitched at a shrill level and ends with him shoving her to the floor so he can go out and get his revenge. There’s nothing authentic here, and the conflict between the two thinly-drawn characters is superficial and unproductive. Trauma is just stage dressing here, not something to be examined with any profundity.
Both leads deliver solid performances but aren’t given much to do. Nesbitt chain smokes and sweats as he builds up to a Travis Bickle explosion, and Neeson calmly delivers his rote speeches with the world-weariness of a man who has given up. A transcript of Hibbert’s actual interviews with Little and Griffen would probably have provided a lot more insight than this tepid dramatization.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The transfer is generally strong with a washed-out color palette and a good amount of detail.
The DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The surround sound is generally well-mixed and the sound design isn’t particularly complex. There are some louder effects in the opening sequence set back in 1975, but most of the film is just dialogue. Optional English and Spanish subtitles support the English audio.
The only extras are a 4-minute Behind-the-Scenes clip and a Trailer.
The DVD features seven, yes seven, forced trailers ahead of the movie. Inexcusable. Unacceptable. Insulting.
“Five Minutes of Heaven” offers no new insight regarding The Troubles and does little to spark interest in its two main characters. Perhaps the film deserves credit for not offering any easy answers, but it also fails to ask any interesting questions.
The film has also been released on Blu-Ray which we did not receive for review.