Fifty Dead Men Walking As Close to Truth as Earth to Pluto


Canadian writer-director Kari Skogland’s slick, soapy procedural—an unreliable adaptation of former IRA informant Martin McGartland’s bestselling memoir—again proves how easy it is to shamelessly bilk audiences of their empathy with an “inspired by true events” credit. McGartland himself, still in hiding, publicly claimed that the film is “as near to the truth as Earth is to Pluto.” From off the violent streets of Northern Ireland during the late-’80s peak of the Troubles, cocky Belfast hoodlum Martin (Jim Sturgess) is recruited to infiltrate the IRA by British Special Branch officer Fergus (Sir Ben Kingsley). Unable to tell even his trigger-happy mate (Kevin Zegers) or pregnant girlfriend (Natalie Press) of his thorny situation, Martin gets pulled dangerously under the spell of both his new extremist family and his avuncular handler. The private jousting sessions between Sturgess and Kingsley are easily the most compelling moments, though it’s the younger actor’s convincing desperation that pretty much carries the film. The unfitting flashiness and clunky segues between thriller and melodrama kill any real sense of tension, making this a poor man’s Donnie Brasco—that is, if its self-congratulation and failure to contextualize the values on both sides of the ethno-political struggle didn’t already make it the poor man’s Hunger.