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You Are There
By Ann Morrow

Bloody Sunday
Directed by Paul Greengrass

First it was three, then it was six. Then it was 13. Another man died later, bringing the death toll to 14, with dozens wounded. The massacre of Irish-Catholic protestors by a British paratroop regiment on Jan. 30, 1972, lives on in infamy as Bloody Sunday, a tragedy still mired in controversy, even after four years of inquiry begun by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998. The searing, cinema-verité film of that day, Bloody Sunday, written and directed by documentarian Paul Greengrass, re-creates the event with handheld cameras, capturing the chaos, misguided intentions, and rising emotions that accompanied the march, and placing the audience in the midst of the action to be swept inexorably into a cauldron of anger.

Yet for all its passion, this is a fair-and-square account, building up to the shootings over a 24-hour span and using handheld cameras to achieve fly-on-the-wall proximity to a range of participants. The film is visually based on the footage of two BBC camera crews present for the march: One was sent to Bogside, the Catholic ghetto in Derry; the other covered the British security forces. Told from these two standpoints, the film exposes the pressures exerted on both sides, including the unease of the paratroops, who’ve lost several comrades to IRA snipers in the preceding weeks, and the pent-up frustration of unemployed Derry youths. The film also manages to show how even in a war zone, people fall in love, raise children, and hope for the future.

The march’s organizer, Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt, in one of the year’s most powerful performances), is a Protestant MP and a dedicated pacifist. A congenial bloke with a gift for the common touch, Cooper is enormously popular with the Catholic locals. Greengrass doesn’t shy away from showing how the all-too-human organizer, who stayed too long at the pub the night before, starts the march late, allowing the marchers to become restless and agitated, and giving the “paras” more time to put up roadblocks and implement a dragnet of the Catholic “hooligans.” Greengrass cuts back and forth between the marchers and the British command post as if he’s following his instincts instead of a script.

Through the confusion of many voices speaking heatedly at once, some facts emerge. The Derry peace march is in protest of the Unionist practice of mass internment without trial. Maj. Gen. Robert Ford (Tim Pigott-Smith) must make a show of force to placate the Irish Protestants. Cooper wants to unite the Catholic and Protestant working classes in a stand against the occupation. The paras are issued tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets to hold off the marchers. There is no explanation for the live ammunition—“an atrocious amount of ammo,” as an officer says in the aftermath. And almost incidentally, there are reminders of how the media once served as a watchdog—the professionally callous British general loses his composure only once, when he hears there’s footage of the Derry Civil Rights banner covered in blood. (Greengrass avoids the emblematic, although you will see the priest waving his blood-soaked white kerchief while dashing through the line of fire to assist the wounded.)

The director is clearly in sympathy with the oppressed Catholic minority. But through its intense realism and synaptic editing, Bloody Sunday gets under the intractable ideology of Northern Ireland to reveal the human story of the tragedy. And does it an unforgettable justice.


Diamonds are forever: Brosnan and Berry in Die Another Day.

Stirring, Not Shaky

Die Another Day
Directed by Lee Tamahori

The reports of James Bond’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Sullen neo-action heroes like Vin Diesel have disdained Ian Fleming’s master spy as an anachronism, but never underestimate the man in the white tuxedo. This latest edition in the James Bond franchise is—surprise—entertaining. Pierce Brosnan seems, finally, at home in the role, with a swagger that makes his Bond more like Sean Connery’s than Roger Moore’s. Of course, having Halle Berry around as a fellow agent, kicking mucho butt, helps take some of the sexist sting out of the Bond films’ usual macho ethos.

Die Another Day starts out with a bang. Correction, make that a series of bangs. From the extreme-sports spectacle of Bond (Brosnan) surfboarding into North Korea on the icy waters of the Pacific, through a reckless chase by hovercraft over a minefield (don’t ask), to Bond’s torture at the hands of a comically sexy Communist dominatrix, the film is fast and sly enough to keep the mind from lingering on the absurdities. Just when things start to get really gritty, the filmmakers pull back. Bond jets off to Cuba, where he ogles Jinx (Berry) rising out of the warm waters of the Caribbean in an orange bikini. This glamorous vision is presented with the reverence of Venus rising from the sea—a reverence that is classic Bond kitsch.

Of course, there’s a plot. There’s a snooty, hyperactive villain named Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), with whom Bond has a smashing swordfight; Zao, a DNA-damaged assassin and freak (Rick Yune); and an icy blonde almost as obnoxious as the villain, burdened with the typically silly name Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). There’s lots of ice and plenty of explosions, as the film honors the age-old practice of having attractive people beat the hell out of each other.

Lee Tamahori is the perfect filmmaker for this material. Part of being a good Bond director is handling the franchise’s legacy with care. This is more than engineering the ridiculously overblown action (and staying out of the way of the second-unit director). It’s making the leaden double entendres seem, if not exactly witty, at least funny in a you-don’t-mind-hearing-them-again sort of way. It’s taking characters the audience has seen 18 times before, and finding a way to make them entertaining one more time. This may sound like a backhanded compliment, but Tamahori’s unsubtle instincts are well-employed. He clearly likes the dumb jokes, but doesn’t linger on them—they have a pleasing lightness. Tamahori’s Achilles’ heel, a tendency toward grotesque excess—witness his bludgeoning domestic drama Once Were Warriors, and crude film noir Mulholland Falls—is appropriately restrained by the necessity of fitting the film within the confines of a PG-13 rating.

Despite the end of the Cold War and the many pronouncements of his irrelevance, James Bond refuses to die. And this film is just deft enough to keep him alive a bit longer.

—Shawn Stone


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