The Wind that Shakes the Barley
reviewed by Andrew James
The Wind that Shakes the Barley takes place in 1920's Ireland, during the British occupation that had the people there up in arms. I admit to not knowing much about Irish history and how the IRA came to be, but I feel much more educated now with this crash course and far more interested in reading some more into it. The British have occupied Ireland and are generally rough-housing and terrorizing the people that live there. A small band of rag-tag rebels pick up what they can (even if it's field-hockey sticks or rusty pistols) to disrupt the British army as best they can.
Not knowing anything about the poilitics of the time or presently in the area, I was able to take this film for what it is and didn't read into anything that maybe is or isn't there as far as political messages go. I just saw a film that is captivating and heart breaking. And also damn good.
The film starts off right away with a completely gripping scene. With a title like Wind that Shakes the Barley, you might conjure thoughts of a boring, drawn out, romantic epic. Nothing could be further from the truth. We're shown the sheer brutality of the British soldiers and the way the people in the villages of Ireland are treated. This scene sucks us into the story, cleary delineating the protagonists and the antogonists with their harsh behavior. It's hard to point to a more riveting and frustrating opening scene than what lies within this movie.
From here on out, I was drawn into the storyline with scene after scene and moment to moment of intense suspense and action. The action scenes themselves aren't necessarily done in a way that differentiates them from any other film or done particularly better than any other film. What makes them so harrowing is the depth to what is at stake, should the attack mission fail.
Between the action scenes are intense moments of political conversation and debate. Watching a government on the verge of collapse along with it's band of a few patriotic, gun-toting simpletons fight its enemies and also arguing from within was fascinating and heart breaking. As a moderate, it was easy for me to sympathize with both sides of the Irish torn apart while also trying to fight for the same thing: freedom from an occupying force.
These scenes, though dialogue driven, are intensely animated and it felt to me that they were done in one take. And when the actors maybe stammered or fumbled a line or two, the discussion just keeps moving along as it might in real life when someone who is speaking passionately about something can't quite come up with the words to express themselves. Fantastic scenes that felt scripted but also with a bit of freestyling or improv; with multiple characters talking over one another with debate or agreement. I could be totally wrong about the improv aspect, but either way, it felt very realistic and kudos to the actors, director and editor for giving it this feel.
Some of the scenes, though brutal and action packed, are surprisingly devoid of too much blood or gore. Sure, there's a blood soaked shirt or a bit of blood smeared hands, but no exploding heads or blown-off limbs as you might expect from some of the more action-packed scenes.
There is a terrific authenticity to everything. From the cobblestone streets and run down homes to the costumes and props (including vintage automobiles and motorcycles). On top of this, the gorgeous Irish countryside just adds that extra bit of awe to the whole experience.
An extremely emotional experience that I could hear evoked a few tears from softer hearts in the theater with the motions some of the characters are forced to go through, but don't want to. With an equal amount of action and political intrigue and depth, The Wind that Shakes the Barley is probably the best movie I've seen at the theater in 2007 (so far). A story of love, brotherhood, war, freedom and political instability is all encompassed within this picture; and that just scratches the surface. Maybe not as fun of an experience as some other current films, but technically speaking and from a meaningful and deep storyline perspective, The Wind that Shakes the Barley is just about as good as it gets.
IMDb profile - full cast and crew
FLIXSTER PROFILE for The Wind that Shakes the Barley
My blog post about this film at Cannes