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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Five Minutes of Heaven

Starts June 17

For several decades Northern Ireland suffered a tense state of siege with bombings and armed riots, Catholics against Protestants, and 3720 people dead. In 1975 Alistair Little was just 17 when he retrieved a borrowed gun hidden in his toy box, got into a car with four friends all innocently eating cupcakes, drove to 37 Hill Street in the town of Lurgan and shot James Griffin. Griffin’s younger brother, Joe, witnessed the deed, while playing soccer on the sidewalk. Alistair served 12 years in prison. Joe’s mother never recovered from the loss and never ceased to blame young Joe for not taking action, literally “for killing your brother.” Thirty-three years later an Irish reality TV show arranges to bring the two men together. In preparation for the truth-and-reconciliation-and-hand-shaking show, both men relive the terrible moments. Alistair, after many hours of counselling in prison, is full of remorse. Revenge-seeking Joe plans to kill Alistair. That moment will be his “five minutes of heaven.” This highly public meeting fails, but later the two men square off at the original scene of the crime and solve their differences in their own way.

In a soliloquy Alistair states that as young man he was “in a Tartan Gang at 14 and in the Ulster Volunteer Force at 15” when Northern Ireland was in a state of terror, even war. He says, “Once you are in the group, you want to do your part, you will kill anyone and the reward is to walk into the bar and be cheered by everyone there.” In retrospect the responsible ones were adults who never guided him down the right path; on the contrary, they gave him the gun. “Society lent me a voice without my own side stopping me.” Even before you think “suicide bombers,” Alistair says, “Muslims need to hear these voices now in every mosque in every country. Stop boys like me from thinking it’s a good thing.” Hamburg director Oliver Hirschbiegel based the film on a real story with the help of the actual participants, filmed on original sites, and, obviously, he hopes the message will fall on fertile minds.  Liam Neeson as Alistair and James Nesbitt as Joe are excellent although the film could end 20 minutes sooner without losing its touch. I would have liked subtitles in English (or even German) since colloquial Irish is sometimes incomprehensible, at least to me. This played at the 2009 Sundance film festival where it won best director and best script.

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