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Bloody Sunday
 

Bloody Sunday, written and directed by Paul Greengrass, is the most visceral and cumulatively powerful account of civil war since Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. It takes place from dawn to dusk on January 30, 1972, when British soldiers, under orders to make mass arrests, shot 27 unarmed demonstrators, 13 of them fatally, as they were taking part in what was intended to be a peaceful, large-scale civil-rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland, to protest the British policy of internment without trial. None of the British soldiers involved was ever disciplined; on the contrary, there were decorations from the queen. The massacre ended any hope for a nonviolent resolution of "the troubles" and rejuvenated the IRA.

Greengrass presents a multitude of mini-dramas from all sides of the conflict. His approach is furiously egalitarian; he wants to make it clear that, in the long term, the events of Bloody Sunday were tragic for British and Irish alike. Inevitably, the film focuses on Ivan Cooper (played extraordinarily well by James Nesbitt), the middle-class Protestant manager of a shirt factory who founded the biggest Catholic political party in Northern Ireland and whose hero was Martin Luther King. Cooper led the march that day. His worst fears are confirmed the instant he realizes the bullets being fired are not rubber but lead. He begins the film as a festive, harried gladhander, the archetypal Irish pol, and ends up broken. Still alive today, he never marched again.

Shooting mostly with handheld cameras, Greengrass keeps the action so vivid that at times it's difficult to believe you're watching a staged re-creation. (Family members of the dead and wounded as well as ex–British soldiers from the paramilitary forces were used as extras.) The depth and range of the film's characterizations, its comprehension of grief, carry it well beyond the standard successes of the semi-documentary format. The primitive force of this film seems to bubble up from the vast collective memory of the combatants. It's like watching a nightmare made flesh. (1 hr. 50 mins.; R) — PETER RAINER

Opens October 4
Showtimes & tickets (movietickets.com)


 
 

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