Acclaimed director Ken Loach returns with arguably his most accomplished film yet. Poignant, impeccably-acted, and thought-provoking The Wind That Shakes The Barley is more telling than it is suggestive.
A young doctor with a bright future Damien O'Donovan (Cillian Murphy) is getting ready to leave Ireland. He has decided to take residence at a London hospital. Bidding farewell to family and friends Damien witnesses the death of a friend (Laurence Barry) who gets killed by the Brits because of his inability to speak English. Emotionally devastated he joins the Irish Republican Army where his brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) has earned a reputation.
A period piece with a feisty spirit The Wind That Shakes The Barley may not be everyone's cup of tea. To the point and openly-critical of the British government and its stance on Irish independence pic offers an interesting read on key events - the establishment of the Free State of 1922, the rise of the IRA, the role of the Church.
In The Wind That Shakes The Barley violence is an important ingredient. Loach places a heavy emphasis on the manner in which the Brits are seen - they are oppressors and killers. On the other side of the conflict the Irish are filmed differently. There is a slightly more intimate approach to their fight; at times the political aspect of this film actually becomes secondary.
And so it goes, Loach continues to overlap pain with anger, passion with patriotism, disappointment with reality until a dramatic conclusion ties all of the scattered pieces in this political drama. The absence of a strong message at the end of the film is well measured as it de facto leaves a much stronger impression on the viewer than a sketchy political statement would.
Some viewers may be partially dissatisfied with the apparent one-dimensional look at the Irish struggle for independence. The opposing side is hardly given the chance to justify their actions excluding a few sporadic lines where vague political statements are made. In the grand scheme of events however pic focuses on what matters the most: human struggle and consequently loss.
The cast is exceptionally good, more than living up to the task in this relatively easy to overdramatize story. Political posterity is kept to a minimum even during the most controversial of scenes. Cillian Murphy delivers a memorable performance revealing the struggle of a man whose life has slowly begun to disintegrate. The ensuing brotherly conflict is powerful and s pivotal point in this film.
Production contributions are outstanding, cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (United 93) offering a powerful and authentic vision of Ireland from the early 20s, costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh getting everything right, and veteran George Fenton (Fight Club) spotting a soundtrack flawlessly complimenting the main feature.
In 2006 the film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival (Ken Loach). During the same year the film won the European Film Award for Best Cinematography (Barry Ackroyd) and the Audience Award for Best Film at the Irish Film and Television Awards. In 2007 the picture was nominated with a Goya Award for Best European Film.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs the print provided by IFC Films is of exceptionally high-quality. It has a perfect film-like look and judging by what I saw in the theater the DVD is practically identical to the theatrical print. The picture has a slightly grainy look with a very subtle contrast between indoor and outdoor scenes. Colors are impressive but not oversaturated, they feel natural and fitting the film's mood perfectly. I did not detect excessive edge-enhancement and viewing this print on my home system was quite the treat. In fact I must note the excellent quality of this print - free of debris and/or scratches. To sum it all up this is marvelous presentation by IFC Films and I am indeed thankful for the care they have put into it.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with an English DD 5.1 track and optional English, Spanish, and English HOH tracks the audio presentation is on par with the video treatment. It is flawless and without any disturbing drop-outs or hissings that I need to report. The inclusion of English subtitles was especially helpful given some of the thick accents and of course the dialect used throughout the film.
There are two excellent supplemental pieces on this disc. First there is a rather long feature called " Carry On Ken: A Look at the Work of Director Ken Loach" where a number of Loach-insiders share their thoughts on the director, his work, and appeal amongst critics and fans. The piece always provides an interesting chronology of Loach's films and the manner his work has evolved during the years. The disc also offers a full-blown commentary by director Ken Loach and Historical Advisor Professor Donald O'Driscoll. I highly recommend that you give this commentary a chance and listen to what Ken Loach and his guest have to say. The reason is unlike most common commentaries you are likely to hear this one truly focuses on the history behind the story rather than spending unnecessary time supplying unneeded information. The DVD also offers the original theatrical trailer.
Aside from Francois Ozon I consider Ken Loach to be the most distinguished director of my generation. His latest film is a powerful testament of his vision and ability to capture emotions and feelings charged with political innuendo. The DVD by IFC Films is of exceptionally high quality which I have decided to award with the DVDTALK Collector Series mark.