Five Minutes of Heaven

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 

Five Minutes of Heaven
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

33 years ago, 17-year-old Alistair Little (Mark David) was a committed member of the militant protestant Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) when he agreed to perform his first assassination. He does the job, putting three bullets into the victim, but there is a snag. The target’s young brother Joe witnessed the shooting and has been blamed by his mother these many years for not stopping his brother’s death. Now, so many years later, a reality TV program wants to bring Alistair (Liam Neeson) and Joe (James Nesbitt) face to face in “Five Minutes of Heaven.”

This is an unexpected story of twists and turns of time and fate. It starts off like “Frost vs. Nixon” but diverges from the interview path to create a pair of sobering character studies. James Nessbit, as Joe Griffen, gets the meatier role as the long tormented brother of the assassin’s victim. His voiceover predominates the film’s first hour as he bares his true intention of revenge. Liam Neeson’s Alistair Little is mostly a solemn face during this time as we learn of Joe’s tortured life and Alistair’s apparently successful, idyllic one.

As the tale unfolds, telling what transpired during and after the murder for Joe and Alistair 33 years ago, it shifts to the present. After the first hour, though, we get to the meat of what is really going on but I don’t want to give anything away about this sparsely told intriguing tale. The acting is excellent, not just Neeson and Nesbitt, but supporting cast, too. Anamaria Marinca, in particular, excels as a TV production go-fer assigned to baby-sit Joe before the interview. In a very short amount of screen time, the actress develops a kind and understanding character who feels for the troubled Joe. Other supporting players also help give the film dimension.

Production is solid but it is the storytelling and acting that stand out. I give it a B+.

"Downfall" director Hirschbiegel has shown a talent for weaving together concurrent story strands before.  Here he adds flashbacks from two perspectives as well for an altogether more simple approach, that, while it suits its subject matter, often seems like a stage play, perhaps because of a structure and central conceit similar to that of  "Frost/Nixon's".  Like "Fifty Dead Men Walking," "Five Minutes of Heaven" is from the rare, Protestant point of view - at least for its initial half - and James Nesbitt is searing in a performance that bubbles both with rage and a tightrope type of wit.  If at first Neeson seems to be underemoting - and too slick by half - it is because of the viewpoint from which we are viewing him, but while the actor adds depth and deep sadness when its his chance to shine, it is Nesbitt that sticks with one.  In the role of a television production runner, "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days'" Anamaria Marinca is a standout.   B.
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