Cinema, after all, is hooked on violence and the notion that a man has to do. . . A tragic romanticism is woven through the ruthlessness; even at their bloody worst the IRA are perversely admired - they have something they would lay down their lives (and other people's) for. Think of the wounded James Mason staggering through the snow, pursued by the RUC, in Odd Man Out; his race around Belfast looking for a bolthole is a metaphor for his driven nature. Or think of the sneaking appreciation criminal kingpin Bob Hoskins expresses for the Provos' kill skill, even as his empire suffers a concentrated IRA assault, in The Long Good Friday. Patriot Games takes much the same tack. Harrison Ford's moral angst is contrasted with Sean Bean's icy obsession, the point being that the film-makers think the two things worth contrasting.
The camera is torn between regard and repulsion. In A Prayer for the Dying hitman Mickey Rourke has internalised the conflict: he believes in the struggle but wants to lay down arms. Blown Away (above) tries to take it a step further by pitting an ex-IRA man (Jeff Bridges) against an irredeemable IRA man (Tommy Lee Jones). Bridges's crass repentance is to work on a bomb squad, trying now to save rather than destroy; Jones is there to remind him that some things cannot be forgotten. Bridges is meant to be the good guy but sometimes the lens lingers on Jones just a little too long, almost infatuated, almost adoring, almost in love.
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