The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

The Wind That Shakes The Barley is set in 1920s rural Ireland during a period of political turmoil. The British “Black and Tan” squadrons occupy Ireland in order to “keep the peace.” Cillian Murphy leads a cast of mainly unknown actors as a recent medical school graduate named Damien who joins the Irish Republican Army after he witnesses the brutality of the British troops. Damien’s brother Dan (played by Liam Cunningham) is caught on the opposite side of the resistance, trying to win Irish freedom through diplomacy and other peaceful methods.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a war film that focuses on a very small portion of the fighting; Consequently, the level of emotion that the film arouses is sometimes overwhelming. Instead of fighting far away on a foreign battlefield, the soldiers are embattled in their hometown of Cork, among townspeople that they’ve known all their lives. Each casualty that falls is a friend, and this film has no shortage of tragedy. The film does a good job of presenting the events with seemingly neutral omnipresence, neither glorifying nor vilifying war. The characters are well developed, and well acted. Any fan of well done dramatic films should definitely see this film.

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars. I really liked this film.


Goya’s Ghosts (2006)

Goya’s Ghosts stars Natalie Portman and Javier Bardem and is directed by Milos Forman, who is perhaps best known for his 1975 adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The film is based on a true story, and takes place in Spain during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Javier Bardem portrays Lorenzo, a high-ranking Catholic priest, who convinces his ecclesiastical brethren to resurrect Spanish Inquisition methods in order to deal with rampant “heresy.” Portman plays Inés, a teenaged daughter of an aristocratic family that is accused of practicing Judaism and is seized by the Church. Painter Francisco Goya, played by Stellan Skarsgård (known for his role in Good Will Hunting) is a close friend of Inez’ family, and using his close relationship to the Spanish monarchy pleads her freedom to the King (played by Randy Quaid.)

Goya’s Ghosts contains some intense and dramatic scenes, particularly surrounding Bardem’s character, but overall is a little too slow. It is an ambitious story that spans decades, and despite the modest run time (under two hours) by the end of the film it is easy to lose interest in the characters. The casting choice of Randy Quaid as the King of Spain is extremely distracting and inevitably leads to the viewer imagining a royal figure in a white sweater with a darkly colored dickie. Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is making Natalie Portman seem unattractive. Unless the viewer is a fan of the time period or of period-pieces in general, perhaps Goya’s Ghosts should be passed over.

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: 2.5 / 5 Stars. I didn’t really like this movie.

Flame and Citron (2008)

Flame and Citron, directed by the Danish Ole Christian Madsen is a foreign language film starring Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen (who played Le Chiffre in Casino Royale) as resistance fighters in Nazi occupied Denmark, code named “Flame” and “Citron.” The pair is an oddly coupled hit squad who systematically targets Nazi officers, and sometimes their own countrymen who are believed to be aiding them. Flame is aptly named, as he is brash and brave. He doesn’t hesitate in performing the task at hand. Citron, roughly translating to “lemon,” accurately represents the character’s temperament. He is stern, calculated, and deliberate.

Flame and Citron is a masterfully crafted study of morality in the time of war. Many films have addressed this theme, but Madsen delivers a truly unique approach. The cinematography is beautiful and the cast is excellent, particularly Mikkelsen. The film is dynamic, transitioning between gripping, abrupt action scenes and equally engaging sequences containing rich dialogue. It moves slowly at times, and despite it’s relatively long run time (two hours, sixteen minutes) it is certain to keep the viewer’s close attention.

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars. I really liked this movie.

Edit: I watched this movie initially because I saw that Mads Mikkelsen is in it, and as a general rule, you should pretty much just watch anything that he is in.