Magazine article The Spectator

The Killing Streets

Magazine article The Spectator

The Killing Streets

Article excerpt

Here we go again: another Hollywood film on `the Irish question' -- though, in this case, American reviewers were keen to emphasise that The Devil's Own is 'sympathetic' to `both sides'. By `both sides', they don't mean the IRA and the British or the Unionists, but the IRA and the warmhearted New York cop who unknowingly rents a room to one of their trained killers. The Unionists have, as usual, been written out of the script, while the British are confined to a few early scenes and a shot at the Best Supporting Thug nominations. It is in this context that we first meet Frankie McGuire, a Belfast freedom fighter spurred to action by the killing of his own father.

The Brits, meanwhile, are living up to the noble ideals of English justice: on the streets of Belfast, their head man kills a wounded IRA chum of Frankie's in cold blood at close range. Possibly Tony Blair, who seems unable to distinguish between fact and fiction in Anglo-Irish matters, has already issued an apology. The rest of us may take a more relaxed view: after all, the IRA's shoot-to-kill policy has been far more exhaustive than the army's or the RUC's.

But the scene isn't really about shooting. Both sides have guns, but only the British army has Simon Jones, a versatile actor but hired here solely for his sneer. As he dispatches the freedom fighter, he lets loose one of his most lethal curled lips - and, in the shorthand of motion pictures, what else is necessary? The scene is efficiently shot by Alan J. Pakula, but it can never really thrill: young Frankie is in no danger because he's played by Brad Pitt. Now consider another young man driven to desperate acts of terrorism by the ruthless actions of government forces. Suppose the British made a film about the Oklahoma bombing in which Brad Pitt was Timothy McVeigh and Sneerin' Simon Jones played the head Fed who killed all those women and kids at Waco. No matter how much you explain that you're being 'fair' to `both sides', casting tells. In a thriller, star power is the only ideology, and politics is charisma: on those terms, thanks to Pitt's pretty-boy charm and plausible Belfast accent, the IRA can chalk up The Devil's Own as one of theirs.

If it's any consolation, once the action moves to America, New Yorkers may have even more cause for complaint. Frankie moves in with Sgt Tom O'Meara, an IrishAmerican NYPD cop who, as played by Harrison Ford, is not merely uncorrupt but positively saintly. …

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