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IN SHORT: Well made Brit flick detailing the 1972 Belfast confrontations; emphasis on family, not politics or outright brutality [Not Rated. 100 minutes]
The Shooting Gallery Film Series at Loews Cineplex Entertainment kicks off its second season with a hands down bravura performance by Julie Walters as a Northern Irish housewife who takes on both the IRA and the British Republican Army at the height of the troubles in Belfast, circa 1972. Titanic Town is the name of the flick, based upon the historical fact that the Unsinkable was built there before it went down in the North Atlantic on its maiden run.
Bernie McPhelimy (Julie Walters) husband Aidan McPhelimy (Ciara Hinds), sixteen years old daughter Annie (Nuala O'Neill) and son Thomas (James Loughran) are new arrivals in the Andersontown District of West Belfast. It is a Catholic neighborhood, as is this family, and while battles between the IRA and the Brit Army have been kicking up all around the area, their lives are fairly calm. It's a traditional family. Walters looks after the kids and the home. Dad is sickly but does his best. The kids go off to school to prepare for adulthood. And one night an IRA fighter starts taking potshots at Brit choppers from the front lawn of the McPhelimy's rented house. Walters will have none of that and she blows out of the house like a fury in the night to chase the terrorist off her front lawn "shoot off YOUR doorstep, not mine!"
It may be naivety or it may be balls but when a friend, Mary McCoy is popped in broad daylight on the way back from the market, Walters takes action. In this case it is sheer naivety -- her plan is to go to both the IRA and the Brits and get them agree not to shoot during the daytime. That way, the kidlets can come and go to school. The wives can do their marketing and laundry and the equivalent of a cease fire would exist and everyone could live with some semblance of ordinary life. Once the sun goes down, Belfast would revert to the Wild Wild West.
The deep dark dirty secret is that it was not the British Army that capped Mary McCoy (Veronica Duffy). It was a stray IRA bullet. But, wartime being what it is, the community buckles down to cover up the story. When the media get hold of Bernie, this innocent women finds words being placed in her mouth that make her look like a IRA defector. That is not the case though it is not in her power to turn the words around. When Bernie makes an appearance of a public meeting, organized by Protestant woman -- not from the neighborhood -- her life goes from badly strained neighborly relations to a sense of impending doom. Indeed, one night the entire neighborhood gangs up on her house, attempting to forcibly remove them from the council estate. Bernie, forcefully shaken and accused of collaboration finds comfort in every increasing does of Valium. Her husband takes ill with a bleeding stomach and is hospitalized. The kids are savaged and shunned in school. The more Bernie does to try to bring the two sides together peacefully, the worse it gets for all. Until the IRA decide to use her as a go between to the British High Lords.
The English are all for a grand petition drive to show support for peace and while it was an IRA idea, the Catholics view the papers circulating as just another police ploy to gather information on who is where, who knows who, and who can be taken out of the picture.
That's the main story, and it is clear as a bell because the energy levels in all performances are so high there is not much to miss -- in ways I'll get to in the next sentence. For me Titanic Town ran into trouble when it retreated to cover the more personal subplots of life in Belfast. The illness of Aidan and his relation to Bernie. A budding relationship for Annie and Dino (Ciaran McMenamin) a would be medical student who makes money selling Italian ices (and if to show just how strained the religious lines were, Italian Ices were "obviously" catholic because Rome is in Italy and so on and so forth) is shown to be much more than innocent young love. Bud's run in with classmates and vicious pro IRA mobs bring a great deal of pathos to the stories. All the actors acquit themselves nicely.
And dare I say it? Many of the supporting characters that introduce themselves and work their way into the general everyday life of the McPhelimy are not exactly what they seem to be. Expecially when it comes to matters of devoutness and the Christian reinterpretation of the Biblical commandment "not to do work of the Sabbath." Here, not working includes bottle throwing, car bombing and bus hijacking, random shootings and the like.
Cranky sat in the screening room eyes wide open. Ears working to the best of their ability. When the energy level of the film is kicking out the jams, there is no problem following this alien culture, at least not to these American ears. There is a problem when the aural volume drops considerable, when talk gets romantic or schemes are hatched and specific Irish slang words enter the dialog mix. It is at these moments, which come to dominate the latter half of the movie that this reviewer found himself almost lost. The story is simple enough that I was never at a loss to follow the general motions of all the stories -- credit the writers for that -- but what I feel would have been a grander emotional connection was lost because too much aural information vanished into the decomposing bits of cranial matter, long pummeled by too many years working in the rock n roll business.
While there is a lot of political material in the movie, the Irish in general (and the Brits too for that matter) all come off as real, passionate people. None of the traditional stereotyping we've come to expect from Catholic/Protestant conflict stories. There's a wee bit of material that pushes the line but nothing to push Titanic Town into the realm of one sided political propaganda.
Two hints for enjoying this flick: find an arthouse, preferably one whose clientele are not of the type who scream back at the screen as if it were a television set. You may need every bit of your linguistic aural abilities to track the dialog -- God knows If I had any of mine left, the rating would be higher, though there's still the question of slang words which haven't been Americanized.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Titanic Town, he would have paid...
Definitely for the arthouse circuit with breakout possibilities if I am totally off the mark about aural understanding.
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