Chaos on the Emerald Isle: 'Wind' Spreads Even Blame

    Awinner at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, “”The Wind That Shakes the Barley”” is already on the lips of indie fans worldwide. Some call it anti-Brit in its shocking portrayal of British hostilities during the Irish War for Independence. Others call it anti-Irish in it’s graphic exposition of the Irish Republican Army’s unforgiving reprisals. But writer Paul Laverty doesn’t take sides in his telling of the conflict. His story is about conflict itself; not just among countries but between men, even brothers. “”Wind”” is about war and the brutality that comes with it, no matter whose side you’re on.

    Courtesy of IFC First Take
    The lush Irish hills are no disguise for bloodshed, as Damien (Cillian Murphy) is torn between brother and country in Ken Loach’s historic war drama “”The Wind That Shakes the Barley.””

    The history of the Irish war may be obscure to American audiences, but it’s a story that we need to hear, and “”Wind”” does a fair job of capturing the struggle through the eyes of its participants. The film follows Damien (Cillian Murphy), a young doctor, and his brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney), a guerrilla leader, through the grassy hills of Ireland to the heart of the conflict, where the IRA and the Black and Tans are engaged in a violent battle of tit-for-tat. When a squad of Black and Tans – a deployment of British WWI veterans known for their brutality – mercilessly kills one of Damien’s childhood friends for a minor offense, Damien soon finds himself deep in the struggle for Irish independence. Then, when a peace treaty is signed a year later, the brothers find themselves in ideological opposition as the violence continues, morphing into a civil war.

    For girls more interested in Cillian Murphy’s dreamboat eyes than his character’s politics, there may be some disappointment. Unlike most war movies in which every explosion brings us back to a reaction shot of our hero, director Ken Loach doesn’t give Murphy the Hollywood closeup expected of headliners. He maintains neutrality by keeping the focus on flying columns, guerrilla units that staged fierce ambushes on British convoys late in the war, and gives us the experience of an everyday IRA soldier. There are no heroes in “”Wind,”” only martyrs.

    You won’t need Wikipedia to understand these politics, but it wouldn’t hurt either. There’s almost too much history involved for a nondocumentary, so Laverty offers his audience piecemeal information about the war through ardent character debates, careful to maintain a fuel for conflict – not just a history lesson for ignorant audiences.

    The pace is broken between these arguments and sequences of troubling violence. Laverty gives violence the same careful treatment he does its context, demonstrating the effect of war on humanity instead of simply showcasing the death toll. After Damien’s column’s first successful British ambush, the IRA rookies wander in a daze between the bodies of the men they’ve just slain, but their lieutenant orders them to attention before remorse overcomes them – a show of inhumanity usually reserved for portrayals of Black and Tans. The scene tries to teach us that both sides will always be guilty of cruelty, for war demands not only the sacrifice of lives, but morals as well.

    “”Wind”” offers many lessons about the Irish War for Independence – and the terrible nature of war itself – but if the majority of Americans glean anything from this film, it will probably be why one should hesitate before ordering a Black and Tan at an Irish pub.

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