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.
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.