Cert 15 100mins Stars 4
The Western is bracingly invigorated with this bitter, brutal and brilliant Irish revenge thriller which swaps the Wild West desert for Ireland’s bleak midwinter of 1847.
When a soldier returns home from fighting for the British overseas, he finds the remains of his family in desperate circumstances due to the potato famine and the despotic land clearances of the English aristocracy.
It’s an impressively physical and taciturn performance by Aussie actor, James Frecheville, as the veteran, Martin Feeney, who begins to wage a one-man war across the land and has his sights set on Jim Broadbent’s callously indifferent lord of the manor.
Meanwhile Freddie Fox’s foppish sergeant is sent to hunt down Martin, and recruits Hugo Weaving’s disgraced policeman, who is also a former army colleague of the renegade.
During the course of his personal vendetta, Martin’s patriotic shift is clear from his use of his native Irish language, and those caught in his violent wake also experience a political radicalisation.
One such example is Barry Keoghan’s squaddie, whose conscience-driven actions suggests the working classes on either side of the Irish Sea have a great deal of common cause against the English landed gentry.
Adopting a suitably spartan style, director Lance Daly brings a harsh mournful beauty and mythic overtones to the magnificently photographed epic landscapes, while not forgetting to feature plenty of shoot-outs and horse rides.
A lean script doesn’t waste a word of dialogue is full of contemporary concerns such as bigotry, torture, the clash of religions and a refugee crisis. It also includes moments of gallows humour and there’s a novel use for a pig’s head, which even the English members of today’s broadminded political elite would shy away from.
Though lacking the romance, melodrama or grandstanding speeches of Mel Gibson’s Oscar winner, this is very much an Irish Braveheart, and is intense, timely and terrific.