Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, this gripping drama by Ken Loach (Raining Stones) is set during the early days of the Irish Republican Army, when British occupation of the Irish radicalised many a citizen and caused some to take up arms. Cillian Murphy plays Damien, a medical student on his way to London when he witnesses a couple of atrocities committed by British troops. Instead of becoming a doctor, he turns into a leading and respected figure in an IRA division led by his brother, Teddy (Padraic Delaney).
The film provides some fascinating historical insight into the nascent resistance movement as it was in 1920, and Loach brilliantly conveys the profound emotional transition young men had to make to become saboteurs and killers. Loach's realistic style is absolutely mesmerizing, with many scenes built around the dynamics of large groups: contentious meetings, torture sessions, battles, celebrations, and the like. One has the sense of history as a pool of energy, and one also develops a kind of Renoir-esque appreciation for the fact that different people on opposing sides of a life-or-death issue have their reasons for believing what they believe. As the story moves along, subtle shifts in the perspectives of men and women who had once agreed to be absolute in their fight for freedom results in a tragic yet understandable schism among Irish patriots. The final half-hour of The Wind That Shakes The Barley says a lot about how the Irish, including people who had known one another all their lives, turned their wrath on one another for so many decades. This is an outstanding film, featuring the best performance yet by Murphy (Red Eye). --Tom Keogh