ROUTE IRISH (15): On General Release Friday 18th March
After his peculiarly upbeat dark comedy Looking For Eric in 2009 (one man’s struggle for inspiration guided by the spirit form of Eric Cantona – much better than it sounds on paper), director Ken Loach returns to familiarly bleak territory with conspiracy drama Route Irish.
Fergus, (Mark Womack) an ex-SAS soldier and mercenary returns to Liverpool from his highly lucrative contracting job in Iraq for the funeral of his childhood friend and partner Frankie (John Bishop), who has been killed along Route Irish, the “most dangerous road in the world”, the road from Bagdad airport to the green zone.
Overcome with grief and struggling with the knowledge that his friend as a fellow contractor was in the Bagdad, not for patriotism but simply for money, Fergus is forced to examine his motivations for doing the job. But something doesn’t sit quite right with Frankie’s death and his suspicions deepen when he receives a package containing a mobile phone and he gradually becomes convinced this is part of a deeper conspiracy to protect the high-stakes contracting company.
The aftermath of war is familiar territory for film making. It has similarities to 2009’s The Valley Of Elah in which Tommy Lee Jones investigated the mysterious death of his son on a military base also spurred on by evidence found on a mobile phone. It also makes a more dramatic companion piece to last year’s ITV mini-series Occupation in which James Nesbitt and Stephen Graham played soldiers choosing careers after returning from war.
Loach eschews the flashy zooms and the choppy cutting that a film maker like Paul Greengrass might have made – any comparisons to Green Zone or Bourne are quickly dispelled in the opening 10 minutes. Instead he uses a much more realistic approach to the camerawork – long takes with powerful silences, ferocious dialogue and little music. However, the detachment that works very well in creating a sense of psychological desolation also causes Route Irish’s pace to flag in the middle and dialogue to occasionally sound stilted.
It’s a film grounded by the very personal story of its lead and stays focused more on words than action – Fergus’s grief quickly turns to rage as he looks for someone to blame for Frankie’s death – it’s the first time he’s had to really examine the consequences of his actions.
The is emphasised by Harem – an Iraqi musician to whom Fergus turns for help with translation who laments that the needs of the Iraqi people are usually overshadowed by the desires of corporations and governments. It’s certainly a point that bears repeating but it verges on the preachy and the characterisation of certain individuals eventually makes you distrust anyone who has a posh accent, wears a suit or heaven forbid, plays golf – that pretty much marks you as a villain from the outset.
For the most part, it’s an earthy drama, not a balls-to-the-walls thriller but its strength is actually its restraint – in focusing the frustration and emptiness that Fergus feels (he owns an expensive but tellingly empty flat), it forces the viewer to re-examine the stark realities of war’s aftermath – the violence feels significant and brutal (there are no glorified fisticuffs here) and deaths are never trivialised.