1 June 2008

OMAGH (Dir. Pete Travis, 2004, UK) - The Face of Terrorism Unveiled

Produced and Scripted by Paul Greengrass, Omagh is a companion piece to Bloody Sunday, a devastating and fearsome study of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

Though greatly overshadowed on it’s release by Bloody Sunday that walked away with many awards and the majority of the critical acclaim, Omagh is an equally compelling study of modern day terrorism and it’s moving depiction of one man’s search for the truth and justice.

Based on a true story, Omagh shifts the narrative of films dealing with the issue of the troubles to a contemporary context, that of 1998 and more importantly, to the role of the Labour government under the leadership of Tony Blair in brokering a peace settlement between the IRA and the Unionist's which would lead to the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement, effectively bringing to an end one of the longest running conflicts in British and Irish politics.

Dealing with the truth cinematically is a difficult proposition when faced with the dilemma of an act of terrorism that had occurred quite recently and was still fresh in the minds of the public conscious, but Greengrass manages to overcome this by approaching the material in a particularly sensitive manner by keeping the gaze squarely on the character of Michael Gallagher, a man of enormous dignity and moral integrity who is coping with the trauma of having lost his young son in the Omagh bomb blast.

The motivation for this callous act of terrorism is succinctly expressed when Michael Gallagher secretly meets an IRA informer who discloses to him the reasons for the formation of the real IRA – some felt Gerry Adams was compromising his ideals and accused him of selling out.

The blunt political truth of the Omagh massacre is that much of the internal British and Irish military and political establishment knew such an attack was imminent but were compelled not to intervene as the political pressure on the promise of a ceasefire outlined in the Good Friday Peace Agreement would have been seriously undermined, and this would have effectively put an end to Tony Blair’s quest to elevate his standing as Prime Minister and leave his mark on the history of British politics.

The Omagh bombing also exposed how powerlessly ineffective the IRA had become in controlling voices of dissent and that any kind of peace agreement seemed hopeless when considering that the IRA had fractured and fragmented into a chaotic political organisation.

Like Bloody Sunday, Omagh also uses a cinema-verite documentary style that allows the film to take an objective approach, and though the film clearly sides with the victims of the bombing, we are provided with a picture of the conflict that condemns both the IRA and the British establishment in trying to cover up an act of terrorism that could have been prevented from happening.

The emotional weight of human loss is etched in the face of the veteran Irish actor, Gerard McSorley, who is simply outstanding as the bereaved father who becomes a microcosm of grief and sadness for the victims of terrorist acts all over the world.

This is both fierce political film making and angry cinema that stands as a testament of Greengrass’ exceptional skills as a champion of the social realism aesthetic.

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