Published: 17 March 2011
by DAN CARRIER
ROUTE Irish has been dubbed “the most dangerous road in the world”. It snakes from the Green Zone in the heart of Baghdad, where the US and their allies base their troops, out to the airport – and for a time was the focus of the ongoing battle between occupying forces and their defence contractors and the people of Iraq who were bearing arms against those who they saw as invaders.
This road takes centre stage in Ken Loach’s latest film, a story of two Scousers called Fergie and Frankie, played by Mark Womack and stand-up comedian John Bishop, who work as armed security guards for civil contractors trying to get a slice of the reconstruction pie in the country.
We learn that Frankie (Bishop) has been killed and his friend believes there is a conspiracy involving his former colleagues over his death. He sets out to unravel the murky truth in the murky world of privatised war-mongering.
There are some issues. Forget how worthy the story being told is here, or the good performances. At times it is a bit a shouty, and covers the same ground more than once, meaning the thriller aspect – which should hook you in and keep your attention – is diluted.
Yes, Loach makes a very strong political point about the ridiculous use of armed contractors, those heavily armed men who are a law unto themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan, and asks the seriously important question of how unaccountable these people are. But the continuously raised voices from the leads as they pour their hearts out is something to suffer after a while rather than feel their pain as well.
Yet, of course, this is political storytelling done to a very polished degree. It is an issue that deserves airing.
There is a symmetry about this film which speaks volumes for Loach’s attitude towards the times we live in. In 1995 he made a film called Land and Freedom, about a man from Liverpool who went abroad to fight. The tale was set in 1936 and the combatant, played by Ian Hart, went to fight Fascism in Spain, to offer his life for democracy, emancipation, a future free from fear – essentially, basic human values. This time out, the Liverpudlian soldier has less meritable aims. He boasts his trip abroad will earn him £10,000 a month – tax free, too. We watch as he spends it on a swanky waterside penthouse flat. But the emptiness of his life, driven by materialism not idealism, compared to the character in Loach’s earlier film is all too obvious: his house is sparse, and has no furniture or warmth in it – it is a shell, four walls, not a home.
Compare this to the love and humanity of the lead in Land and Freedom.
Whether this was intentional or not, it sums up neatly what Loach is trying to say.