A story about revenge and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, "Five Minutes of Heaven" is a dramatic thriller with brilliant performances by James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson.
There are more than two people in the cast of this tense, dramatic thriller about the fine line between reconciliation and revenge. But viewers might go home thinking only of the performances by James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson.
“Five Minutes of Heaven” is presented in two distinct parts. The first, set in 1975 Northern Ireland, where Catholic-Protestant problems are resulting in people regularly being killed in the streets, tells of some glory-seeking teens who are ordered by higher ups to take out one of the opposition. They do so without any thought of consequences.
Seventeen-year-old Alistair (Mark David), gun in hand and a hood over his face, steps right up to the window of a fellow who’s been told to leave town – but won’t – and blows him away. The crime is done right in front of the dead man’s much younger kid brother, Joe (Kevin O’Neill).
The second part of the story jumps ahead 33 years, long after Alistair has done prison time for his crime, and Joe has built a family. A British TV program wants to bring them both together, for the first time, to shake hands on camera and present a look at “men talking about the men they’ve become.” What the ratings-hungry people behind the show don’t realize is that while both of their subjects are truly broken men, still reeling from the incident, one of them has a very specific agenda on his mind, involving a hidden dagger and an act that might bring him, in his words, five minutes of heaven.
As the adult Alistair, Neeson wears a face of loneliness and worry. He’s likely done well for himself, as he dresses nicely and carries himself with pride. But Neeson gives Alistair an emptiness and weariness that will generate some viewer sympathy. He’s never forgotten the face of the young boy who saw him kill his brother.
Nesbitt as the adult Joe – who refers to himself disparagingly as a “celebrity victim” – presents a combination of frustration and bottled-up anger. He has a happy home life and career that enables him to get by somewhat comfortably. But he’s never forgotten that he couldn’t see the face of the person who killed his brother. He, too, will get viewer sympathy.
As presented by writer Guy Hibbert and director Oliver Hirschbiegel, each man is haunted by the past on a daily basis. Joe endures an extra bit of mental torture due to memories of his mother (Paula McFetridge) blaming him for not stopping the killer.
The television event is to take place at a huge country estate that’s crawling with TV crew members. It’s headed up by a concerned, soft-spoken producer who keeps coaching the two men – kept in separate rooms – on what’s going to happen.
There’s plenty of tension in the moments before the men are to meet, but the film reaches thriller levels when the story goes beyond the TV program setting, and returns the action to the original scene of the crime – the now boarded-up flat where Joe once lived and Alistair once visited.
The inevitable confrontation near the end brings with it some surprising turns and inventive camera work, along with some dialogue that’s open to interpretation. Shown to the right audiences, the film just might serve as a jumping-off spot to get some people to rethink their reckless behavior.
FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN (Not rated) Written by Guy Hibbert; directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel With Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt 3 stars out of 4.
The Patriot Ledger