The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Political Drama  |   Release Date - Mar 16, 2007 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 128 min.  |   Countries - Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Derek Armstrong

For directors who refuse to orient their audiences through exposition, there's a price to be paid, and Ken Loach pays that price in The Wind That Shakes the Barley. This gripping epic about the Irish War of Independence, made all the more affecting by its exquisite cinematography, is diminished somewhat by Loach's failure to personalize his characters and tell us who's right and who's wrong. On the one hand, Ireland's British occupiers are clearly dead wrong -- they're portrayed one-dimensionally as reprehensible tyrants. But divisions also develop internally between the Irish freedom fighters, and these disagreements have dire consequences to the dissenters. Not knowing who owns the moral high ground, because Loach has been cagey about laying this out for us, is somewhat frustrating, because it leaves us without clear rooting interests. Surely, Loach isn't interested in anything so pedestrian as right and wrong, good and bad. He's more interested in documenting this tumultuous period in Irish history, with its repeated destruction of loyalties, its compromises and failures to compromise. This being the case, it would help to have a more in-depth understanding of his characters as people, not just as the embodiment of sociopolitical philosophies. A few scenes with Cillian Murphy do penetrate in this way, but they stand out as isolated pockets within a dense stream of attacks, imprisonments, tortures, and other plot-heavy logistics. This doesn't mean The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a bad film -- far from it, as its win at Cannes indicates. The lush green countryside captured by DP Barry Ackroyd would, by itself, be worth the price of admission. It just means that Loach can't touch our souls the same way Ackroyd touches our eyeballs, which is problematic in a film that involves the tragic sacrifices made in the name of ideas.