Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Friday May 22, 2020 


In 1975 Belfast, Alistair Little (Mark Davison) is a 17 year old leader of a British loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force cell; he and his gang are given the go ahead to kill Jim Griffin (Gerard Jordan) a young Catholic shipyard worker who refuses to give up his job for a Protestant - as a reprisal and a warning. Jim's 11 year old brother Joe (Kevin O'Neill) watches the tragic event, which destroys the lives of the whole family. Some 30 years later a TV program has arranged a meeting between the grown up and conflicted Joe (James Nesbitt) and the tortured Alistair (Liam Neeson), to be broadcast live. But for the two men, this truth and reconciliation approach is a double edged sword. Alistair has spent 12 years in jail for the crime and Joe feels incapable of forgiveness.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Inspired by a true story, Five Minutes of Heaven touches on the deepest aspects of human nature, the complex emotional and psychological storms of guilt, revenge, forgiveness and redemption. We are taken back to the 70s in Northern Ireland when 'the troubles' were in full swing, neighbours killing each other, families torn apart, sectarian violence a way of life. As the grown up Alistair (Liam Neeson) reflects on that time in his youth, he articulates some highly relevant observations about the nature of groups that recruit members who then become morally blind. He recalls how he was 'lost to society' once he joined the group and how killing the enemy seemed unambiguously morally correct; he advocates that to combat Islamic extremists, every mosque in the world should warn its congregation not to join groups that are bent on violence. Perhaps the international Muslim hierarchy could take note.

The film gathers momentum as director Oliver Hirschbiegel (of Downfall fame) takes us through the preparations for an execution of the killing, and then intercuts between the two adults - the killer Alistair and the victim's brother Joe (James Nesbitt) - 33 years later as each prepares for a face to face meeting on camera for a TV program. This device allows us inside the characters' hearts and minds, as the tension mounts. But there's a twist and the story takes flight in a new direction.

Liam Neeson is satisfyingly complex in a still and restrained performance as Alistair, the haunted man who has only paid his dues to society with a prison term and his ongoing work as a counsellor to prisoners; his debts to his victim's family is seemingly a permanent marker on his soul.

James Nesbitt's Joe is more emotionally fragile, at least on the outside, as he struggles to live on a daily basis with witnessing his brother's assassination, and the subsequent condemnation and guilt that his mother heaps on him afterwards. 'You could have done something,' she screams; which of course is a dagger in his heart, even though it isn't true.

Some of the scenes in the palatial country estate where the TV show is being recorded get a bit fussy, but there are some key moments here that set up the emotional landscape, and the economy of the screenplay provides an intense and focused film that ultimately delivers a gentle and controlled payoff - something we thought may never eventuate.

Review by Louise Keller:
'For me to talk about the man I have become, you need to know about the man I was,' says Liam Neeson's Alistair Little. His is a monumental journey from boy to man, from killer to prisoner and his quest to being released mentally as well as physically. Equally difficult is the journey of Joe Griffin (James Nesbitt), whose brother Little killed 33 years earlier and who has lived with guilt, blame, anger and hatred ever since. Five Minutes of Heaven refers to the moment in time when the two men meet. This is a potent, tension filled psychological drama based on real events that takes us on both sides of the emotional divide. Acclaimed director Oliver Hirschbiegel gives us much more than we expect in a complex and superbly executed film, whose subject matter may be specific but whose themes of humanity are universal.

The first part of the film takes us to Belfast, where 17 year old Little (Mark Davison), as leader of a Protestant British Loyalist Cell pulls the trigger in a planned execution. The 12 year old brother and witness (Kevin O'Neill), who was kicking his ball against the wall at the time, becomes the football for his grieving mother. The film then leapfrogs in time, showing two men who are passengers in cars travelling towards a common destination, where cameras are waiting to record their meeting. A meeting intended to reflect truth and reconciliation. We get under the skin of both men as a camera man stumbles, the make-up artist fusses, microphones are set up, the empathetic runner from Vladivostok (Anamaria Marinca) chats casually and the past catches up with them both. What will happen when the two men meet? The tension builds to fever-pitch as we wonder whether there can be reconciliation or whether revenge is the only outcome.

This is Liam Neeson's first film role since the tragic death of his actress wife Natasha Richardson in March 2009 and he totally embodies the sad-eyed broken man struggling to cope with the aftermath of the tragedy. When Neeson's Little says 'I don't know where to go; where to put myself after,' he could easily be talking about his own plight. James Nesbitt too, is effective as the family man crippled by hatred, who achieves his Five Minutes differently than originally anticipates. Our journey is a pensive and satisfying one, treading on tense and anxious steps as we approach the resolutions to the most complex of issues.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0


(UK/Ireland, 2009)

CAST: Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt, Anamaria Marinca, Paula McFetridge, Niamh Cusack, Paul Garret, Gerard Jordan, Barry McEvoy, Richard Orr

PRODUCER: Eoin O'Callaghan, Stephen Wright

DIRECTOR: Oliver Hirschbiegel

SCRIPT: Guy Hibbert


EDITOR: Hans Funck


RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020