Route Irish, Cannes Film Festival
Thursday 20 May 2010
After the comparative whimsy of Looking for Eric, Ken Loach is back in competition in Cannes with a very dark and muscular revenge thriller. Route Irish is an intricately plotted, fast-moving film with a strong political undertow. Loach and his regular screenwriter, Paul Laverty, are railing against the abuses perpetrated by Western private security contractors in Iraq. They are laying bare the obscenity of waterboarding and torture. In the final reel, though, the film lurches into vigilante territory – a Death Wish for the anti-war movement.
As the story begins, Fergus (Mark Womack), an ex-SAS officer who has been working as a private-security contractor in Iraq, is back home in Liverpool. His best friend, Frankie, has just been killed on "Route Irish", the deadly stretch of road between Baghdad airport and the Green Zone. Fergus doesn't accept the official accounts of the circumstances in which Frankie was killed.
The early scenes have a brooding intensity about then. Fergus, played by Womack with a gimlet-eyed intensity, is a driven and very bitter figure. There are fleeting flashbacks to when he and Frankie were younger. The two men were as close as brothers.
As in the best detective stories, the tenacious Fergus slowly pieces together the true circumstances in which his friend died. The key prop is a cellphone Frankie took in the aftermath of a shooting in Iraq that left several members of an innocent family dead. The film-makers make ingenious use of Skype and mobile-phone footage as Fergus struggles to unravel a very complicated mystery.
Although largely set in Liverpool, the film conveys well the stress and adrenalin rush experienced by the contractors back in Iraq. As in The Hurt Locker, we hear references to how hard it is to adjust to shopping in supermarkets back home in the West once you've been on the front line.
Loach and Laverty make it very clear how brutally the Western soldiers and contractors often treat the Iraqi people. Their real ire is reserved for the big bosses who've flouted laws and made vast fortunes from the chaos in Iraq. The film was made for a fraction of the budget of Paul Greengrass's recent Green Zone but is arguably just as effective in conveying the moral and political corruption in post-invasion Iraq.
Route Irish, though, is a surprisingly conventional thriller. The bigger picture risks becoming blurred as the film-makers concentrate on Fergus's vendetta against the men who killed Frankie. Loach is too impassioned and well-informed a film-maker to lose sight altogether of the political backcloth against which the story is being told. However, when Fergus gives a thug a taste of waterboarding or brings some Baghdad-style carnage to the leafy car park of an English countryside hotel, he is behaving not so differently from the craggy, emotionally repressed action heroes in countless other movies by far lesser directors.
Route Irish is an effective thriller but, for once, Loach risks fudging the message that he is trying to deliver.
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
- 5 Man hospitalised with pneumonia after downing eggnog at office Christmas party
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader