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Ten Word or Less Review:  Strong first feature but not quite as relevant as before.

 “Bloody Sunday” is Paul Greengrass’s first feature which recounts a pivotal and violent altercation between Irish Catholics marching for civil rights and the British military in late 1972.  Though the march was deemed an illegal demonstration, an agitated and aggressive collection of soldiers let loose with random gunfire into defenseless crowds and killed 13 people.  The film is a subdued voice of outrage about a tragic event which greatly changed Irish/British relations for the next 25 years.

 Invoking a strong sense of similarity to the classic “The Battle of Algiers”, both involve the occupation of land by foreign militaries and the violence that erupts in said situation, “Sunday” largely follows the efforts of pacifist advocator Ivan Cooper, (James Nesbitt).   Cooper was an advocate for non-violence who wanted those following his lead to remain peaceful at all cost.  But as the situation deteriorates in front of his eyes, he knows all hope is lost for a peaceful solution.  After the massacre, IRA hostilities toward the British would escalate as angry youth began to flock towards the more militant IRA movement.    

 Director Greengrass is Michael Bay with skill.  He films intense mayhem and chaos, but unlike the talent challenged Bay, brings it all together with coherence, precision and exactitude.  Greengrass’s characters may frequently be at a loss as to what’s happening around them, but the viewer rarely is.  It’s his ability to organize pure bedlam which has made him one of the most influential, I.E. copied, directors currently working.  His Bourne films have set the standard by which contemporary action films must judge themselves and “United 93” may be the most unpleasantly intense movies ever made.  That amounts to praise through damnation. 

 “Bloody Sunday” was regarded with praise as proof that low-budget innovation could trump Hollywood spectacle when in the right hands.  It’s clearly an influential movie as that in the 7 years since its release; the film has become its own worst enemy.  While still a visceral and invigorating film, “Bloody Sunday” now feels slightly old hat in nature.  It’s hand held style and gritty look have permeated into scores of other Hollywood films.  “Children of Men” looks and feels like a sequel set in the future.  Greengrass himself still utilizes much of the same style he began using here with very little difference.  His scope and budgets have only gotten bigger.

 Some other minor issues hanging over “Bloody Sunday” are accents and characters.  While mostly clear and understandable, on occasion the Irish accents thicken to the point of incomprehension.  Characters aside from Cooper are also minimally explored.  Greengrass is more interested in the general events and details of the day and less with character arcs or more traditional dramatics.  “Bloody Sunday” remains an intense piece of filmmaking, but not the most emotional one.  Only when innocent Irish start to get pulverized by trigger happy British soldiers does the film make an emotional impact. .  It’s portrayal of tragedy is still a valid expression of outrage, and it doesn’t take cheap shots or pull shamelessly on heartstrings.

 “Bloody Sunday” put Greengrass on the map and for that it will forever be regarded as an important movie.   The world has changed drastically since the film’s production and perhaps that’s the central issue lessening its impact.  The world of Ireland and the IRA seem so distant and minor compared to terroristic threats of today that the importance of “Bloody Sunday’s” event is difficult to grasp.  The IRA and the British military would duel violently for the next 25 years after this day in 1972, and the historical irony of a peace march instigating so much bloodshed is a point viewers should linger on.   It’s a strong first feature from a director who has gone on to reshape action filmmaking.  And while it may seem of lesser importance now, it’s still a fine representation of how low-budget skill and artistic determination can out do Hollywood bombast on any given day.


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