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With: Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham, Gerard Kearney, William Ruane, Kieran Aherne, Roger Allam, Orla Fitzgerald, Laurence Barry, Sabrina Barry, Frank Bourke, Antony Byrne, John Crean, Máirtín de Cógáin, Keith Dunphy, Kiernan Hegarty, Myles Horgan, Damien Kearney, Fiona Lawton, Martin Lucey, Sean McGinley, Mary Murphy, Shane Nott, Aidan O'Hare, Mary O'Riordan
Written by: Paul Laverty
Directed by: Ken Loach
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 127
Date: 05/18/2006
IMDB

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2007)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Army of Starkness

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The veteran English director Ken Loach is known for imbuing his films with striking political realism, although this skill is often as much a drawback as it is an asset. Sometimes his singular touch causes films to suddenly burst into life, as in Land and Freedom (1995) or My Name Is Joe (1998). But sometimes it can be used to merely cover up otherwise stagnant or maudlin storylines, as in Bread and Roses (2000). But his new film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley (the title refers to a sung ballad) is his most effective marriage of style and substance, and his best film in at least a decade; the Cannes Film Festival correctly awarded it their Palme d'Or last year.

Set in Ireland just after World War I, the film depicts life under English rule, and the growing unrest among the Irish, directed toward their unfriendly occupiers. Though something of an ensemble piece, most of the action centers on brothers Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Padraic Delaney). Damien is about to leave for London to complete his medical training, but English troops suddenly storm his house and ferociously beat a young man to death. Witnessing further violence on a train platform, Damien decides to join his brother's group of resistance fighters. The action suddenly halts halfway through the film as Ireland and England strike up a peace treaty; Ireland will have freedom to elect its own officials and control its own economics, but will remain under the flag of the British Empire. Teddy accepts this treaty, but Damien opposes it.

One of Loach's most impressive skills is to take political arguments, such as the one surrounding the treaty, and turn them into dynamic cinema. His camera appears to have been accidentally running during an actual heated debate. But unlike some of Loach's earlier efforts, this time the rest of the film stacks up equally, thanks in part to Murphy's ferocious, but delicately balanced performance. When the brothers inevitably face off at the film's climax, the irony exists all on its own (the brothers sit in the same cell where they were once prisoners together). The film never stoops to point it out to us. Moreover, Loach manages to depict the film's violence, romance, action and politics each with the same gravity and dignity. It's a crowning achievement.

DVD Details: The new 2007 DVD from IFC/First Take comes with a rather dull, monotone director's commentary track, accompanied by historical advisor Donal O'Driscoll. A 49-minute featurette, "Carry On Ken," fares a little better. The disc also comes with optional English subtitles, a trailer, and trailers for other features at startup.

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