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19 March 2011

Uphill Battles

Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen was released during my first term at university. I can't remember now whether or not I went to see it (I do remember that Monsieur Exquisite was lulled into a false sense of security by the presence of the subtitles for the near-incomprehensible Scottish accents, which disappeared 30 minutes in); if I did, I didn't like it. I thought I had rejected all of his subsequent films for not being my type but actually, it turned out that he made Looking for Eric, which I quite liked.

Anyway, I was surprised to find that I didn't automatically dislike Route Irish, Loach's latest film, after seeing the trailer. In fact, it looked quite interesting, even though I don't like war films or Loach films. In Route Irish, Fergus (Mark Womack) plays Fergus, a former soldier-turned-security-contractor whose best friend Frankie (John Bishop) has just been killed on the eponymous Route Irish, a stretch of highway between Baghdad Airport and the Green Zone that has been called the most dangerous road in the world, for obvious reasons (the reasons why it is called Route Irish are less clear to me). Frankie's vehicle was blown up while he was on the way to the airport to pick up a client.

But all is not as it seems, of course. A mutual friend gives Fergus a package from Frankie, which contains a mobile phone that Frankie wanted Fergus to have and Fergus enlists the help of a local Iraqi to translate the videos and text messages it contains. In fact, Frankie's death might not have been so accidental after all and Fergus's suspicions rise when the higher ups at the security firm seem very keen to get their hands on the phone but the more he discovers, the more thirsty for revenge he becomes. Meanwhile, Frankie's wife/girlfriend Rachel (Andrea Lowe) gets over her initial anger with with Fergus for tempting Frankie out to Iraq in the first place, and the two grow closer. But do they already know too much? And how far will Fergus go to avenge his friend's death?

Overall, I thought Route Irish was OK and not just because it allowed me to work on my Scouse accent. The story moved fairly quickly and because it turns out that I didn't read much international news before about 2009, I don't know a lot about the situation with security firms contracted to work in Afghanistan and Iraq and the issues with them. The characters were quite well developed too and the developing relationship between Fergus and Rachel felt genuine. It was, however, a very grim, dark film, which isn't ideal for a sunny Saturday afternoon. As there were only four other people in the cinema, it seems that Route Irish might be a little too niche and even Loach's fans will probably find it rather weak.

The other war-related film I saw this week was the political thriller Fair Game, which was excellent, mainly thanks to the brilliant acting from Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. Based on a true story, the film stars Watts as Valerie Plame, a former CIA agent whose identity was outed and career ruined after her husband, Joe Wilson (Penn), wrote an article for the New York Times criticising the Bush administration for decisions made regarding the war in Afghanistan. Wilson's constant need to keep on speaking out about the wrongdoings of the Bush government and Plame's desire to keep quiet in order to protect her family put some serious strains on their marriage too, which makes for an emotional movie.

Again, I didn't know much about the events depicted in this film. For example, I knew that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove had fallen from grace but I didn't know the events that led to this (or really who they were; well, when Summer in The O.C. compared another character to Karl Rove, I knew it wasn't a compliment). I'm not going to address the political biases of the film, if any, because I'm not really qualified for that. It was, however, a good thriller with some great acting and even though I had to pay £12 to see it, I think it was worth the money (praise indeed for someone who tries to avoid paying more than £8 per film -- even in London).

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