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50 Dead Men Walking(2008)
Inspired by the true story of Martin McGartland who was recruited by the British Special Branch to work inside the IRA. He moved up the ranks and saved well over 50 lives, yet ended up being hunted by both sides. He had to leave his young girlfriend and child behind for their own protection and is still on the run today.
For more about 50 Dead Men Walking and the 50 Dead Men Walking Blu-ray release, see the 50 Dead Men Walking Blu-ray Review
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ben Kingsley, Kevin Zegers, Natalie Press, Rose McGowan
Director: Kari Skogland
» See full cast & crew
50 Dead Men Walking Blu-ray Review
An above average entry in the espionage genre.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, January 17, 2010
Looking back through the history of Northern Ireland and the conflict that ravaged a large portion of the nation for nearly a century, it's difficult not to feel deeply saddened. Much like the great civil war of our nation's history, the conflict in Ireland divided families and neighbors, resulting in ongoing bloodshed that often led to immense civilian casualties. From an outsider's perspective, this ongoing violence between the occupying British and the Irish Republican Army seems like a tremendous waste of British resources and an exercise in futility for the Irish rebels, but until you stand firmly entrenched in the conflict, it remains impossible to put yourself in their shoes. To this day, historians stand divided over the IRA's classification as freedom fighters or a terrorist organization. Thankfully, 50 Dead Men Walking doesn't beg the question of which side you fall on. Instead, it provides viewers with a topical analysis of Irish life during the late 1980's, and one man's struggle to balance the demands of both warring factions.
Making his living as a door-to-door salesman of stolen goods, Martin McGartland (Jim Sturgess) quickly attracts the eye of IRA leadership. Given their increased interest in recruiting the young man as a volunteer in their organization, McGartland also lands on the radar of the British Special Branch, a counter-terrorism group whose main goal is shutting down the violent activities of the IRA. When approached by a handler for the Special Branch named Fergus (Sir Ben Kingsley), Martin is initially reluctant to serve as a tight (informant) within the IRA. However, a violent act against a close friend by members of the IRA soon pushes him into the welcoming arms of the British agent, who offers him money and a car in return for his services. Over the next four years, Martin gains the trust of several major players in the IRA, while divulging key activities of the organization (assassination attempts, gun transports, and key bombings) to the British. His motivation for playing both sides in this manner is an inherent desire to stop bloodshed on both sides and claim a better life for his wife and children. Unfortunately, anytime you have an informant within an organization, you'll eventually run out of poor saps to blame the leak on, and in Martin's case, his relationship with Fergus becomes his undoing as well as his saving grace. With the walls slowly closing in around him, Martin learns trust is a lost commodity in the game of espionage.
While not a perfect film, 50 Dead Men Walking is a pleasure to take in. Martin's struggle to better his situation while serving what he considers to be the greater good of both sides is best summarized in a dinner conversation early in the film, when he vocalizes his frustration with the treatment of Irish Catholics and general dislike for both the IRA and the British. As he becomes a key player in both organizations, the film strives to make it abundantly clear that his only goal is to do what he believes is right, rather than follow the wishes of the men holding the puppet strings. This doesn't always work out the way he plans it (after all, he can't save everyone), but his actions eventually earned him a reputation as the man who saved fifty lives.
Considering the film is loosely based on the autobiography of Martin McGartland, we know from the very beginning that the hero will live through the ordeal long enough to write a book. In fact, the opening scene contains a brutal assassination attempt in the late 1990's, before proceeding with the story of McGartland's role as an informant ten years prior. As much as I enjoy the use of a disturbing introduction to grasp viewer's attention, the knowledge that Martin remains alive ten years later removes a fraction of the suspense from the rest of the film. Thankfully, the intensity is still kept at full throttle thanks to the rapid pacing of the film and the ever-present worry that Martin's activities could land his family in harm's way, but I wish the assassination attempt hadn't occurred until the end of the film.
In the acting department, 50 Dead Men Walking is a rousing success. Sir Ben Kingsley demonstrates once again that he easily deserves a spot among Hollywood's acting elite. I've been a little worried about his choices in recent years (Bloodrayne, War Inc., and The Love Guru), but Kingsley has returned to true form in his role as Fergus. The character isn't nearly as demanding as Don Logan from Sexy Beast, or Behrani in House of Sand and Fog, but Kingsley always manages to deliver his greatest performances when facing a challenging role such as this. Likewise, relative newcomer Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, 21) is finally given a role that shows his range as a serious actor. The intensity he demonstrates at key moments in the film reveals his potential as a blossoming lead actor, and might open some doors at a key point in his career. For example, focus on the scene between Sturgess and Kingsley when Martin confronts his handler over the killing of a young volunteer in the IRA. During that sequence, Sturgess is almost frothing at the mouth, with visible shards of spittle flying recklessly about. Keep in mind he's standing only four inches from the face of Kingsley, who inevitable ends up on the receiving end of the saliva shower.
As much as I enjoyed the film, there are several problems worth noting. First, the meetings between McGartland and Fergus often occur in public places, begging the question of why the IRA never thinks to track the movements of their operatives. Second, the inclusion of Rose McGowan as a sexy temptress within the IRA wasn't important to the overall plot, and seemed to dilute the story during a time when things were beginning to get interesting. Third, despite the intended portrait of Martin as a saint (a reference that's even explicitly suggested at one point in the film), his real motivation behind working with the British could easily be interpreted as financially motivated. At the beginning of the film he's portrayed as a reckless thief with no sense of authority or responsibility. Given his situation is the best an Irish-Catholic man can expect from a society that treats them as outcasts, it's not too difficult to imagine alternative motives for acting as an informant. The film never goes overboard in making Martin out to be a great guy, but the implications still suggest he acted out of a desire to save lives (with the monetary motivation glossed over). These three missteps aren't major detractors from the film, but still serve as my primary reasoning behind the film only earning a four out of five rating.
50 Dead Men Walking Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 20Mbps), 50 Dead Men Walking offers a largely proficient visual experience. Filmed entirely on location in Northern Ireland, the cinematography truly captures the feel of the war-torn environment, with bricks littering sidewalks, barbed-wire fencing around every corner, and the oppressively drab exteriors of the poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Studying distant or close-up shots, you'll find an excellent level of fine-object detail on display in the vast majority of scenes. There are still several shots that appear soft or slightly out of focus, but they don't occur with enough frequency to detract from the overall experience. From a coloring standpoint this is a highly stylized film, with indoor and outdoor filtering that washes the more vibrant colors from the palette. Some might find the lack of natural colors a bit off-putting, but I felt it adds to the gritty tone of the film and seemed entirely appropriate for the material. On the flipside, I'm a little less enthusiastic when it comes to the differentiation between darker shades in the transfer and the occasional loss of shadow detail. One scene that really stands out as a disappointment is a chase sequences in the final minutes of the film. Footage from inside the car of the pursuing IRA henchmen is so muddled and dark that it's difficult to make heads or tails of what is going on. Thankfully, the rest of the film remains far less troubling, but I still felt contrast could have been a little stronger (without resorting to oversaturation or boosting the brightness).
If the strengths and weaknesses in the transfer were placed on a scale, the positives would tip the scale with such force that the negatives would be thrown off. At a time when we're growing increasingly accustomed to the CGI-heavy action offerings of Hollywood, it's almost refreshing to take in a film with cinematography that generates its own sense of style, while still matching the intimate nature of the subject matter.
50 Dead Men Walking Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The lossless audio mix is reasonably strong thanks to a wonderful soundtrack and excellent use of the surround field, but the lack of consistent dialogue levels diminishes the overall score. Similar to films such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or Bloody Sunday, you'll immediately find yourself straining to make out the differences in annunciation and tonal quality between the American-English dialect, and the accents used within the film. As your ears begin to adjust to an extent where you're able to easily process the nuances, you'll grow increasingly comfortable with the manner in which characters speak to one another. Unfortunately, as difficult as it may be to decipher the lines, it becomes entirely impossible when a conversation is further muddled by volume drops during scenes with rapid line delivery. The lack of consistency jumped out at me during a handful of sequences (typically when I worried about running the risk of missing a key piece of the plot), and posed enough of a problem that I grew frustrated with the constant need to replay certain scenes. If you toss the dialog out of the equation, the other elements in the mix offer a robust experience, with ample immersion in the sound field, plenty of separation between channels, and a wonderful level of clarity.
50 Dead Men Walking Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Deleted Scenes (1080i, DTS 2.0, 8:41 min): Most of the clips shown here are either extensions or alternate takes on scenes from the film. Regarding the presentation of the collection, the footage is window-boxed into a small central portion of your screen, and appears a bit rough.
Behind the Scenes (1080i, DTS 2.0, 32:47 min): In true "behind the scenes" fashion, this half-hour supplement is simply a collection of clips showing the actors and crew members on various sets. There are no narrative clips or interviews, and I doubt much editing was employed in the creation of this feature.
Rounding out the extras, we have a window-boxed trailer for the film that's encoded in high-definition.
50 Dead Men Walking Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you enjoy edge-of-your-seat entertainment, I'd highly recommend 50 Dead Men Walking. I can't account for the historical accuracy of the conflict portrayed in the film, and I'd imagine this is a sensationalized portrayal of real life events, but if you're merely approaching the production with a desire to be entertained for two hours, you won't be disappointed. Purely from a technical standpoint, the disc offers a fantastic visual experience, and an audio mix that grows troublesome from time to time, but still offers enough proficiency to earn an average rating. Put together, you have a complete package that's well worth the low introductory price at our favorite online retailer, making this a no-brainer for most Blu-ray collectors.
50 Dead Men Walking Blu-ray, News and Updates
• 50 Dead Men Walking Blu-ray - November 2, 2009
Phase 4 Films has announced that it will release '50 Dead Men Walking' on Blu-ray on January 5, 2010, day-and-date with the DVD. No release details are available as of now. This action thriller is based on the true story of a Belfast young man who was recruited ...
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