[box cover]

Bloody Sunday

Documentaries are one thing, but it's rare that a dramatic film convincingly captures the chaotic, confusing, fast-paced nature of real life — much less real life in a crisis. That's the brilliance of Bloody Sunday, writer/director Paul Greengrass' harrowingly authentic look at January 30, 1972: the day British troops killed 13 Irish people in Derry (and wounded 14 more) after a peaceful civil rights march went tragically awry in Northern Ireland. Filmed with handheld cameras in a cinema verité style (in the truest sense of the term), Bloody Sunday makes a good-faith effort to offer both the Irish and British perspectives of the event. While the Irish protestors, led by idealistic politician Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt, in an excellent performance), hope to use their march to make a statement without resorting to violence, the isolated English paratroopers sweat it out waiting for something — anything — to go wrong so they'll have an excuse to move in and catch the hooligans they're sure are out there causing trouble. Unfortunately, they're at least partially right: Instigated by IRA militants, several young men, including shaggy-haired Gerry (Declan Duddy, nephew of Bloody Sunday's first casualty), split off from the main body of marchers to taunt and curse the British soldiers, voicing their frustration at being governed by a country they despise. All too quickly, the protestors' rocks and stones draw return fire from the troops — first rubber bullets and then real ones. In the melee that follows, the soldiers let their resentment and anger loose, ignoring a cease-fire order and going after anyone who runs, even those waving white handkerchiefs in truce. It's bewildering, frenetic, and catastrophic, and when it's finally over, no one knows quite how it all happened. And while certainly casting the Irish in the most sympathetic light, Greengrass doesn't indiscriminately tar and feather the soldiers — he makes it clear that communications breakdowns and personal prejudices were as much to blame for the debacle as were official orders and military strategies. In keeping with the film's documentary-like feel, most of the cast members aren't experienced actors — Greengrass cast former British soldiers and Derry citizens to play their on-screen counterparts, and it works beautifully. The authenticity of their reactions and interactions is indisputable, and it makes the film all that much more powerful, both as an expression of grief and as a cautionary tale. Grainy, choppy, and garbled on purpose, Bloody Sunday nevertheless looks and sounds good on DVD; the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is strong, and the English DD 5.1 audio is clear (although you might want to turn on the English subtitles — the accents will make some of the dialogue next to impossible to understand for most North American viewers). Extras include a "making-of" featurette, a retrospective interview/featurette with the real-life Ivan Cooper, and two commentaries. Greengrass and Nesbitt weigh in on the first one, offering thoughtful, insightful comments on the film and the larger issues it touches on. The second track, also quite serious, features co-producer Don Mullan. Author of Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, the book that inspired the film, Mullan was there in 1972 and gives a fascinating perspective on the events covered in the film. Keep case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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