Directed by: Ken Loach
Written by: Paul Laverty
In choosing a movie to watch for this week’s review, there was one deciding factor on the cover of The Wing that Shakes the Barley, which caught my eye– the badge of the Palm d’Or award from Cannes. Having watched fellow trophy recipient The Tree of Life (2011) last week I felt a sense of excitement and anticipation well up within me for this feature. However after two hours of watching Ken Loach’s award winning piece I was left rather bemused as to why this film picked up top honours at Cannes. It left me overall unmoved and unspired, despite a few moments worth remembering.
The story is that of two brothers, Damien and Teddy who join the Irish Republican Army in the 1920’s struggle against the imperial ‘Black and Tans’ of England. Damien and Teddy conduct a series of ambushes against the English forces, until eventually a truce is declared and a decision must be made between joining the Republicans and serve under the authority of the throne of Britain or continue to fight for complete freedom and independence. Teddy feels their victory is significant enough and joins the Republicans whilst Damien believes their socialist ideals are yet to be fully realised. Thus civil war erupts, with the brothers now finding themselves on either side of the battle lines. Ken Loach paints a very sordid picture of the English imperial forces with harrowingly realistic scenes of troops beating and murdering Irish civilians. His depiction of the English immediately establishes them as the ‘evil forces’ whilst the band of IRA fighters are depicted as ordinary civilians concerned and passionate for the freedom of their land and countrymen. Having said this, the sheer cold-blooded murders of the British at the hands of the IRA are chilling to watch. Clearly no side was blameless in this struggle. Loach portrays the IRA’s violence with a somewhat nonchalant attitude, which comes across as a necessary evil and therefore justified.
The performances weren’t stellar by any stretch. Cillian Murphy (Damien) probably did the best job of all and his interaction with his brother Teddy was central to the storyline, yet it wasn’t inspiring nor ground-breaking. There needed to be more drawn out from the two of them. Plot wise the film failed to deliver anything beyond average. A major problem for me is that 80% of the film is dedicated to the struggle against the British with only a fraction of the film set during the civil war struggles. This detracted from the film, as there wasn’t enough time to highlight and develop the tension and strain on the brothers’ relationship. This was where Loach needed to expound more and draw out more emotion from their newfound allegiances. The cinematography itself was fairly lackluster as well. It didn’t do much to add to the emotion or narrative. Yes there are some nice scenes of Ireland and the tones of the interiors and costumes correspond well to each other, but to be honest you have to try pretty hard to make Ireland look bland.
This feature seems to be caught in no man’s land. It is not a an overly entertaining action drama that one may expect from Hollywood, but it is neither an inspiring or thought provoking drama that masterfully explores the relationship and tensions between two brothers and the ideals they believe in. If anything it leans to the latter but doesn’t do a great job of that. Thankfully it did have plenty of raw fighting scenes to keep one fairly entertained otherwise it would be a tremendously bland movie indeed.
Quality Rating: 61%
Entertainment Rating: 6/10