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FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING (director/writer: Kari Skogland; screenwriters: from the book by Martin McGartland & Nicholas Davies; cinematographer: Jonathan Freeman; editor: Jim Munro; music: Ben Mink; cast: Jim Sturgess (Martin McGartland), Ben Kingsley(Fergus), Kevin Zegers (Sean), Conor MacNeill (Frankie), Natalie Press (Lara), Tom Collins (Mikey), Rose McGowan (Grace); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Kari Skogland/Peter La Terriere; Phase 4 Films; 2008-UK/Canada)
An action-packed historical Irish thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An action-packed historical Irish thriller based on British agent Martin McGartland’s autobiography of his days as an undercover mole in the IRA in the late 1980s. Writer-director Kari Skogland(“The Stone Angel”/”Men With Guns”/”Banshee”) leaves us with no clear political message, but does a good job covering the story’s ethical complications while refraining from being political. Skogland’s co-writer is Nicholas Davies. They keep things plausible and make the film a character-driven one more than a plot driven tale. The conventional actioner is pleasingly fast paced.

In 1988 in Belfast, the Brits are the occupiers, as the IRA is waging an insurgency. The vast innocent civilian population is caught in the middle of this feud. Martin McGartland (Jim Sturgess) is a young adult small-time Belfast hustler recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate the IRA and be an informer. The con man, though taking dangerous risks, gives the Brits valuable information on the IRA, which saves the lives of many police and soldiers.

The pic gets its title from the knowledge once an infiltrator has been exposed to the IRA, he becomes a “dead man walking.” Martin’s double life begins to get too heavy for him when he realizes he’s a bind, as his British handlers threaten to sell him out if he refuses to work for them.

McGartland’s devoted intelligence agent handler is Fergus, who is smartly played by Ben Kingsley. Martin’s pal Frankie is played by Conor MacNeill. When he’s kneecapped by hooded IRA men, Martin goes earnestly to work for the Brits. Nathalie Press plays Martin’s child-bearing girlfriend. The outstanding performance by Sturgess, who plays his vulnerable character as a confused lad dwelling in a Belfast that is divided and volatile. It’s a place where it seems everyone thinks they need a cause to rally behind.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”