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Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass) 2002
The cinema verite style that Paul Greengrassí supposed historical recreation film Bloody Sunday employs opens a dangerous can of worms that I could never push back shut while watching it. Reconstructing the events that occurred leading up to and after a British troops turned fire on an Irish civil rights march in Derry, Ireland on the fateful day January, 30 1972, the movie is stylized so that it closely resembles reality, but it presents a defiantly biased point of view, so in effect the film becomes revisionist propaganda smuggled under the guise of truth telling. Events that were entirely subjective are gifted with the same corporeal tangibility as hard facts with their equal placement on celluloid. I donít really have any particular political bias regarding the things that took place on that day, but I find the filmís mix of historical accuracy and composite conjecture to be an uneasy one, since the distinctions between the two remain invisible as Greengrass apparently opts to use whatever version of the truth that fits his needs. Iím no expert on the events in question, and I havenít read the book that served as the filmís source, but many of Sundayís manipulations of the facts are so obvious, that you never for a moment need to concern yourself with worrying over whether or not you can trust it. My hackles always bristle whenever a film pulls this sort of thing, so I guess my aesthetic bias disqualifies me from making a fair judgment of its dramatic worth, but Sunday doesnít seem to work on those grounds either.
Bloody Sunday, goes so far out of its way to sympathize with the victims of the massacre that it loses its objectivity. The suffering that they feel is indeed horrible, but in using in this way, itís cheapened. The opening scenes contain inappropriate romantic moments between future victims and a foreboding chat about the future of a young boy who will so obviously have none. After the massacre, it opts to show us their mourning process, and in making that editorial choice it discards much of the neutrality it wants you to believe it has. We never get to see any of the British soldiers at home (obviously), but when we get to glimpse behind the scenes of their operation, the commanderís speeches are sometimes, appallingly, played for laughs. Though the film does an excellent job of showing the great disconnect between the British command center and the troops who were directly involved in the events, it presents it as much as a mistake of the leadership as the reason why those leaders couldnít possibly be held responsible for what were ultimately the choices of individuals.
Several choices that Greengrass has made in directing the film affect it negatively as well. The green-tinted look of the film is more ugly than realistic. The incessant use of a ringing phone in nearly every location in order to escalate the tension levels seems way overdone. The first half of the film, in which we spend our time waiting for the demonstration to begin, feels less like watching history unfold than watching people at work, and watching people at work makes for a boring movie. Furthermore, since I was never taken in by the opening scenes of the film, the latter ones failed to engage me, despite the escalation of incident. Whatever their manipulations of fact and cinematic technique might have been, I wouldnít call such similar movies as Haskell Wexlerís Medium Cool and Ridley Scottís Black Hawk Down boring. Bloody Sundayís wheezing rhetoric and simplified desire to find a bad guy combined with its wearing, monotonous technique make it a tough sit. Such an important event in Irish history deserves better treatment.