If it weren’t so contrived Five Minutes of Heaven — another look at conflict in Ireland — might have been a powerhouse of a movie. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel gets strong performances from Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, but he can’t keep the movie’s seams from showing.
In pitting a protestant murderer against his victim’s surviving Catholic brother, the movie all-too-obviously raises issues about the price of violence. Instead of being a drama of surprising revelation, Five Minutes of Heaven feels as if it had been written by someone working from a well-prepared checklist.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
The movie alternates between the murder — which took place in 1975 — and subsequent efforts by a TV producer to bring the two antagonists together for a moment of truth and reconciliation.
Flashbacks take us through the fateful day. Well-chosen young actors play the teenaged killer Alistair Little, and Joe, the victim’s brother. Joe was kicking a soccer ball around the street and witnessed the murder. Joe’s brother was shot while sitting in his living room watching TV.
The adult Little (Neeson) blames himself for being a cocky teenager who craved a bit of celebrity. He’s gone beyond guilt and shame into deep resignation. He long ago abandoned the idea that he might be forgiven.
Still suffering from the trauma of the shooting and from the rebuke of a mother who blames him for not stopping it, Joe (Nesbitt) has become a wreck of a man. He chain smokes and seems unable to contain the torrents of nervous energy that often leave him talking to himself. He believes he can relieve his guilt and anxiety only by exacting revenge on Little.
Playwright Guy Hibbert reportedly wrote the screenplay after meeting with two men who lived through a similar story. Despite being grounded in reality, the movie never feels entirely credible, perhaps because it strains to deliver its message, namely that acts of violence reverberate long after the bullets stop flying. It’s a truth that didn’t need to be uttered. The point, apparent from the outset, can be seen in Little’s fatigued ex