UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Fifty Dead Men Walking

Film about Northern Ireland depicts explosive passions without indulging in brutality

By Kevin Spurgaitis

Fifty Dead Men Walking
Directed by Kari Skogland, starring Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess
(Phase 4 Films)

In the 1980s, when Northern Ireland’s civil conflict was at its peak, 22-year-old hooligan Martin McGartland was recruited by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to infiltrate and spy on the Provisional Irish Republican Army. McGartland, a Catholic and a nationalist, earnestly collaborated with British police believing that he could help save innocent lives on both sides.

Inspired by this true story, Fifty Dead Men Walking tells the story of Northern Ireland’s Troubles — the era of violent, deadly confrontations between IRA terrorists and British army “invaders.” Bookended by the 1999 incident that has McGartland discovered in Canadian exile, the film is largely set in Belfast, where he and his world-weary RUC handler, Fergus, work to prevent impending terrorist acts. But McGartland’s position consumes him as his mission grows ever more dangerous. Living under the constant threat of exposure, he nevertheless continues as an informant until he is discovered and then forced to escape against all odds. 

The film depicts explosive passions without indulging in brutality. The bloodshed is reserved for pivotal scenes involving interrogations and summary executions. And as Sturgess’s character undertakes this perilous work, audiences can’t help but pray that he will avoid exposure himself.

The storytelling is occasionally awkward and at times too drawn out. But unlike other films depicting the Troubles, Fifty Dead Men Walking treads a political tightrope, neither condemning nor condoning the atrocities committed by British police and Northern Irish dissidents. Instead, it serves as a balanced retrospective, building intrigue from the ground up with nothing more than thickly accented dialogue.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image