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Two new movies about the Troubles - Liam Neeson wows critics

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Two new Irish films about the Troubles in Northern Ireland will be released on August 21, and both are receiving rave reviews, which goes to show that audiences are still very much interested in the topic.

“Five Minutes of Heaven” and “Fifty Dead Men Walking” are both based on true stories.

“Five Minutes of Heaven” stars acclaimed Northern Irish actors Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, and is a thriller that wowed audiences and critics alike at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film also won both the World Cinema Directing Award and World Cinema Screenwriting Award.

Playing against their own backgrounds, Neeson, who hails from a Nationalist community in Ballymena, County Antrim, plays Alistair Little, a real-life Loyalist killer.

Nesbitt, from a Unionist background in Coleraine, plays Joe Griffin, the real life brother of a man that Neeson’s character has shot dead.

The film features a flashback to 1975, in which we see the then 16-year-old Little assassinate Griffin, a murder that is witnessed by his horrified and helpless 11-year-old-brother Joe. The impact of the callous shooting destroys Joe’s life, and his family never comes to terms with their loss.

It then moves from a re-enactment of those tragic, real events to a fictional but completely believable interpretation of what might happen when these two men finally come face to face for the first time 30 years later. 

"Five Minutes of Heaven" shows how difficult genuine reconciliation between two people from opposite sides of a violent struggle are so scarred by the conflict.

Meanwhile, “Fifty Dead Men Walking” takes us to the Troubles in Northern Ireland during the 1980s.

The film, starring Jim Sturgess, Ben Kingsley and Rose McGowan, is based on the best-selling memoir by Martin McGartland, who was a Catholic in Belfast during the late 1980s but was recruited by British intelligence to spy on the IRA.

The high-action thriller earned rave reviews at Toronto Film Festival. Sturgess plays McGartland, who is eventually exposed, captured and tortured. The real-life McGartland escaped, and is still in hiding today.

The two films are neck-and-neck when it comes to reviews by movie goers and critics.

“Heaven” received an 85 percent rating from the community on Rotten Tomatoes, while “Fifty” edged out with a 90.

Britain’s Telegraph calls “Heaven” a “very moving exploration of the nature of terrorism and the anger, guilt and pain it leaves behind, given added weight by two powerful lead performances by Liam Neeson as Alastair and James Nesbitt as Joe.”

The Hollywood Reporter said of “Fifty”: “All performances, especially from Jim Sturgess as McGartland and Sir Ben Kingsley, again showing his chameleon DNA in the role of McGartland's Special Branch handler Fergus, are stunning.”

Both films involve the Troubles, but according to reviewers, “Fifty” is an action film, while “Heaven” is more of a morality tale.

The Sundance review of “Heaven” said the the screenplay was “smart” and “insightful.”

“‘Five Minutes of Heaven’ shuffles some very difficult themes and emotions -- and it succeeds on sheer force of honesty, intelligence, and wisdom," it says.

“For all its stark honesty and confrontational emotions, the messages found in Five Minutes of Heaven are refreshingly humane and hopeful."

Britain’s Guardian praises the action aspect of “Fifty,” saying: “Producer-director Kari Skogland has put together an effective, if cinematically unambitious, enterprise, emphasising the suspense-thriller elements that come naturally to the story of a man terrified of being found out at every turn.”

The Hollywood Reporter concurs, calling the fact-based film a “supremely well-made, highly stylized, graphic tale of Northern Ireland's "Troubles" in the late 1980s.”

No matter what the style of each of these films is, both have proven themselves to worthily tackle intense Irish issues, and are said to provide an entertaining, if not emotionally stirring, movie experience.

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