When his childhood friend and fellow private security contractor Frankie (John Bishop) is blown up in Iraq, Fergus (Womack) launches an investigation into the events surrounding his friends death.
There is room for any number of allegorical treatises about the Iraq invasion and occupation, made by filmmakers with a social conscience. But sometimes you need someone to step up and talk about the conflict, rather than hiding behind metaphor, or — worst of all — have-your-cake-and-eat-it action scenes. Even the justly celebrated The Hurt Locker was, when the dust settled, a wholly uncritical celebration of US heroism in Iraq. So it’s good news that indomitable Brit director Ken Loach has chosen to follow Looking For Eric with a film that manages to bring the Iraq conflict home — both literally and figuratively. Imagine In The Valley Of Elah, written by Alan Bleasdale and directed by Mike Leigh, and you’re on the right track.
Taking its name from the squaddies’ nickname for the stretch of rubble-strewn road linking Baghdad’s concrete-walled Green Zone with its international airport, Route Irish is an attempt to make sense of yet another killing in an increasingly senseless conflict, now largely being run by private security contractors, the military action having moved to Afghanistan. At first, Fergus’ (Mark Womack) rejection of the official verdict looks like a by-product of grief. After all, as Frankie’s girlfriend Rachel (The Tudors’ Andrea Lowe) observes grimly, Fergus was closer to Frankie (John Bishop) than she was. But the discovery of an Iraqi citizen’s phone, recording the shooting of an innocent family, exposes a deep-rooted cover-up, turning the grieving pair into targets — and the film into a hard-hitting conspiracy thriller which, in its most exciting moments, gives Bourne a run for his money.
Loach’s breakthrough, Hidden Agenda, delved with considerable political acuity into murky goings-on in Northern Ireland, and Route Irish proves his finger is still on the pulse. Cinematographer Chris Menges, who took us to Iraq in Stop-Loss, does a terrific job of bringing Baghdad to Merseyside. But though the performances have an authenticity that goes beyond mere acting, Womack is a little too much of a tough guy to be truly sympathetic. Someone with a softer side — perhaps Paddy Considine, Michael Fassbender or Loach favourite Ian Hart — might have helped the film engage not just the brain and the guts, but the heart as well.
As urgent as Hidden Agenda was, Loachs latest is insightful and explosive, so torn from todays headlines it leaves newsprint on your hands.