banner image

:: Five Minutes Of Heaven

German director Oliver Hirschbiegel's Five Minutes of Heaven takes us back to the troubles in Northern Ireland, which lasted for over thirty years before a still shaky peace accord finally ended the conflict between Protestants and Catholics. The film, with a script by British television writer Guy Hibbert, takes a semi-fictional look at the fate of two boys on opposite sides of the conflict - the Protestant Alistair Little and the Catholic Joe Griffin.

There is a real-life slaying of teenager Jim Griffin (Joe's brother), who was gunned down in his home in Lurgan in 1975 by Little, a 16-year-old member of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Fast forward 33 years to 2008, and Alistair (Liam Neeson), the boy killer who has served 12 years for his crime, is preparing to meet Joe (James Nesbitt), the little brother who witnessed the awful event. Both men have agreed to meet on an Irish television program that aims to act as a healing agent for victims of the Irish conflict.

The scenes are pretty engrossing, and also represents Nesbitt’s finest performance to date in the role of a man broken by his past. Little is reformed and remorseful, while Griffin itches for vengeance, pocket blade at the ready and willing to kill. At the last minute the television encounter is aborted and Little must see Griffin by himself if he wants his own sense of salvation. James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson provide fine performances.

This particular slaying of Catholic by Protestant was just part of the hundreds of tit-for-tat killings that plunged Northern Ireland into civil war for nearly three decades. But the film's purpose is to explore whether these destructive forces unleashed in youth remain in adulthood, or whether the powers of reconciliation prove stronger.

In tackling this aspect of power of reconciliation the film has its moments of insight and revelation. Its most powerful statement is about how adult organisations should not corrupt their young. The original music by David Holmes helps maintain the intensity and focus too.

‘Five Minutes Of Heaven’ was very well received at the 2009 Sydney Film Festival and won the Audience Choice Award. It is one of those rare films which is tense and important.