Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom, 1990. Hemdale, Initial. Screenplay by Jim Allen. Cinematography by Clive Tickner. Produced by Eric Fellner. Music by Stewart Copeland. Production Design by Martin Johnson. Costume Design by Daphne Dare. Film Editing by Jonathan Morris. Cannes Film Festival 1990. Toronto International Film Festival 1990.
A lawyer (Brad Dourif) and a former documentary filmmaker (Frances McDormand) are investigating allegations of abusive behavior by British Security Forces in Northern Ireland on behalf of the civil liberties organization they work for. Having previously worked in Chile, they don’t anticipate anything could be worse than what they’ve already seen until Dourif is taken for a drive by an I.R.A. member to meet an informant and neither of them make it to their destination alive. A tough investigator (Brian Cox) is sent to look into the matter and both he and McDormand are determined to get some answers. Their journey reveals increasingly sinister evidence as the clues point beyond the borders of the occupied corner of the Emerald Isle and towards shady goings on at 10 Downing Street, the whole matter revolving around a cassette tape that contains explosive evidence and threatens McDormand’s life as well as tying Cox up in political red tape. Intelligently written and wonderfully acted, this film gains a great deal from Ken Loach’s almost documentary-style direction: there are no florid camera moves and the locations, drab houses and dingy pubs, are presented without romantic lighting or expressionistic shadows. The result is a film that feels powerfully real; it was never hard to believe anything terrible about the Thatcher regime, so even if Jim Allen’s script is based on nothing substantial it comes across as authentic nonetheless. The tension builds wonderfully until a terrifying ending, and then punctuates the terror with a devastating reminder that, in the game of politics, the house always wins and knowing the truth is not always the solution to anything.