Omagh directed by Pete Travis, written by Paul Greengrass and Guy Hibbert, with Gerard McSorley, Michele Forbes, Brenda Fricker and Stuart Graham. 106 minutes. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (March 10). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Depicting the events following a car bombing that killed 29 people in Ulster in 1998, Omagh is a docudrama executed at a very high level of commitment and artistry.
When they misread a tip from an informant, the police inadvertently herd the townsfolk toward the bomb, and they're never to be trusted again.
What's important here is not the bombing itself, but its aftermath. The families of the victims wait in vain for the bombers to be captured, arrested and punished, but nothing happens. The police don't trust their informants, the politicians don't want to do anything to upset the "peace process," and Sinn Fein, now all legal and parliamentary in the person of Gerry Adams, won't help the police.
It's a story of political betrayal of a people by the institutions that are supposed to protect them, centred on Gerard McSorley's Michael Gallagher, a middle-aged garage owner who has lost his son in the bombing. When one of his group tries to reassure him after yet another useless meeting, Gallagher crystallizes the situation: "There's been 2,000 unsolved murders since the beginning of the Troubles. Why should ours be any different?"
McSorley, an Irish actor best known for his role as the vicious drug lord in Veronica Guerin, is a native of Omagh, so he doesn't have to reach for the Ulster accent, and he walks the streets as if he's known them all his life, which he has. It's a great performance of unyielding authority that never for a second seems like acting. It is pure, without mannerism, a thing of very rare beauty.
Omagh was written and produced by Paul Greengrass, director of Bloody Sunday, and is directed by Pete Travis in much the same style. It has a lot of hand-held DV designed to look like news footage and at times appears to be shot from a concealed position by someone who wishes the protagonists no good.
I mention this because to plan and shoot a feature film to look as if it were shot on the fly and succeed in making it look absolutely real and not like a hand-held mess is a remarkable achievement. Its apparent chaos is controlled and planned to terrific effect. One of the advantages of being in a theatre, away from phones and e-mails and other interruptions, is that the reality posited by the film draws us in quickly and mercilessly.
There are no failures of political nerve on the part of the director, and nothing in the style ever gainsays itself. The illusion is remarkably seamless. Highly recommended.