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Five Minutes of Heaven (5/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 90 minutes.

In 1975 in Northern Ireland, 17-year-old Protestant Alistair Little (Mark Davison) assassinated 19-year-old Catholic Jim Griffin. The murder was witnessed by Jim’s 11-year-old brother, Joe (Kevin O’Neill). The murder devastated Joe and his family who were never able to come to grips with the brutal loss. Little was arrested, convicted, and served only 12 years in prison for the cold-blooded murder.

The first half hour of this film, which deals with Little’s murder of Griffin, is well done. Even though one knows what is going to happen, director Oliver Hirschbiegel builds the tension slowly and believably. Little did the deed to win his spurs with the militant Protestants who believed that the only good Catholic was a dead Catholic.

After that, though, as grown up Little (Liam Neeson), he has had second thoughts. Most of the last hour is concerned with grown up Joe (James Nesbitt) as he prepares to meet Alistair in a made for TV interview.

The murder is factual; the rest of the film is fictional, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t work. Even though screenwriter Guy Hibbert worked closely with the actual men, using their words and feelings to create a fictional scenario, and even though Nesbitt gives a gripping performance, the last hour is 30 minutes too long. An hour of watching Joe and Alistair as on their way to the meeting, which is to be recorded for television, is so much too long that it eventually becomes uninvolving as it leads to its climax.

Also, even though Neeson is listed as the lead actor, this is Nesbitt’s film. The last hour is almost entirely about how Joe reacts to the upcoming confrontation. Neeson is just along for the ride, and, probably, to draw people into the theater.