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The Wind That Shakes The Barley

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The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney in "The Wind That Shakes the Barley"

IFC First Take
Damien O'Donovan (Cillian Murphy) is an educated, likable young man with hopes and dreams and a crush on a beautiful girl named Sinead (Orla Fitzgerald.) Damien wants to be a doctor, but it is 1920 in Ireland, and he joins the rising Irish Republic Army instead.

Traveling with a small band of men, including his fiery brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) and an intellectual he meets in prison (Liam Cunningham), Damien engages in guerrilla warfare. He kills people: numerous English occupying soldiers, and even one of his own. For the good of the people, he commit atrocities he never thought possible, goes hungry, and gives up the chance for a normal life -- and in return, is not even beloved by the people he is fighting for.

Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley, winner of Canne's highest prize, the Golden Palm, is an excessively earnest film-- and it's also a history lesson. Using Damien's fictional story as a way into actual history, the film painstakingly traces the Republican movement's war against occupying British forces in the 1920s and the resulting Anglo-Irish Treaty. Peace is declared; there is decree to end the bloodshed, but the agreement doesn't bring independence. A new kind of war begins: rather than fighting the English, the Irish themselves have become divided.

Loach explores big questions. How does killing a man in cold blood change a person? (Answer: not for the better.) Do the means justify the ends, even when it means killing your friends and family in the name of liberation? (Answer: there is no easy answer.) War is hell, and in no way does The Wind That Shakes the Barley glorify it.

The scenes of torture, fighting and misery are so well crafted that the film is difficult to watch--an observation which is equal parts compliment and criticism. But at 124 minutes, the heartfelt drama comes across as pedantic and tedious. Cillian Murpy, fortunately, is such a fine actor, that by the end, his presence accomplishes Loach's mission. He makes the film work.

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