Guy Hibbert’s novel-writing process for Five Minutes of Heaven is an interesting experiment. In 1975, Ulster Alistair Little killed Catholic Joe Griffen’s brother; decades later, the two unburdened themselves to Hibbert about the event and speculated on what would happen if they ever met. (They never did.) Then, Hibbert wrote this movie. He and director Oliver Hirschbiegel use the killing itself as a starting point in an atmospheric prologue. The production design is spot-on, but Hirschbiegel tries way too hard to create tension, making every occurrence—a record needle dropping, a car door slamming—an unsubtle potential bomb, fraying your nerves like a cheap horror movie. The next two acts are hypotheticals: Little (Liam Neeson) and Griffen (James Nesbitt) almost meet 25 years after the shooting, while taping a BBC program about reconciliation, but Griffen backs out at the last second. This near-brush plays out as a bad one-act play, with internal monologues on both sides; Neeson is too calmly patrician to convey Little’s real inner turmoil, though Nesbitt’s Griffen is hilariously splenetic. It’s a hell of a show when he goes off, but nothing can be done with lines like, “That’s the trouble with me. I have all the wrong feelings.” Then, finally, there’s the physical confrontation, which plays like a bone-crunching and foley’d-out fight scene from the Bourne series. The three parts never coalesce, even if they each have potential.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 18, 2009