Belfast, 1973. (In other words: Uh-oh. Brace yourself for some "troubles," people.) A girl sends her little brother out for Dad’s cigarettes; minutes later, the boy is bleeding from gunshot wounds. Cut to London, 1993; that girl, now a woman (Oblivion’s Andrea Riseborough), carrying a mysterious package onto a commuter train. Her hesitation to commit to an act of terrorism is quickly followed by interrogation by a British intelligence officer (Clive Owen, intelligent and very British), who gives her a choice: Become an informer or else. She returns to Ireland, falling back in with the ol’ Republican crowd, including a go-getter played by Aidan Gillen—whose appearance will inspire cries of either “Carcetti!” or “Littlefinger!,” depending on your crowd’s demographic. But will this stool pigeon sing?
Director James Marsh may be better known for his doc work on these shores (notably the Oscar-winning Man on Wire), but if you’ve seen his contribution to the Red Riding trilogy, it’s clear his facility for dramas involving vintage drab Britannia—ashen-faced men in ashen-gray suits, running around dingy rain-soaked landscapes—is peerless. He’d seem like the perfect director to bring Tom Bradby’s novel of IRA intrigue to the screen, so why does this thriller seem so bereft of genuine thrills? The material requires strong leads, which it gets in spades, and a simmering sense of tension, which the film’s sluggish pacing consistently deflates. Even Marsh’s grace notes—a funeral riot, a character washing the dishes while awaiting a date with death—can’t goad the story to life as it slouches toward a climax. There’s slow-burning, and then there’s simply slow; the difference between the two has never been so apparent.
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