Set in 1988, Colin Farrell plays a dedicated photojournalist in Kurdistan with his buddy Jamie Silves covering the conflict there. Farrell gets almost fatally injured whilst on the job, and when he finally makes his way back home, he hears that Silves isn’t back yet. This is odd because Farrell claims Silves (who found the bloodshed too much after a while) was supposed to have left ahead of him to be back home with his pregnant wife Kelly Reilly. Meanwhile, Farrell’s Spanish wife Paz Vega senses a change in her husband, who is struggling to remove the horrific images of war from his head (whilst also trying to heal from his comparatively minor physical impediments), but unwilling to open up to anyone. In order to get some answers out of Farrell, she calls upon her grandfather Christopher Lee for help, whom she is estranged from due to his controversial past as a psychiatrist who ‘purified’ the war criminals who carried out Franco’s deeds in the Spanish Civil War (and who argues some credible validation for his actions). Lee agrees and tries to get the cagey Farrell to open up about his experiences, and also to talk about Silves. Farrell is resistant, but Lee is ever-so persistent. Branko Djuric (“No Man’s Land”) turns up as a realistic Kurdish doctor whom Farrell observes making some very tough, unpleasant, but possibly ultimately compassionate decisions. Juliet Stevenson plays Farrell’s self-absorbed editor.
This well-meaning 2009 war-drama from Serbian writer-director Danis Tanovic (whose “No Man’s Land” managed to find quite a different and interesting war story to tell) is so impressively acted that you just wish the plot weren’t so damn predictable, clichéd, and frankly tired and repetitive. It’s same-old, same-old stuff, with Farrell being gently goaded into retelling his story, where we see him experience something horrific and photograph it. Lee then asks questions, Farrell gets cagey. Rinse and repeat for 100, with occasional interruptions from Vega. There’s really not a whole lot more to it than that, and I already know that war is horrible and it affects those who experience it (Farrell’s character clearly suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), even those not directly involved in the conflict. Was I meant to be surprised by any of this? I certainly saw the conclusion coming a mile away, and the journey wasn’t interesting enough to compensate for a predictable destination. The best and most insightful thing in the film are the quotations about war (one from Plato) that bookend the film. They give you genuine food for thought, moreso than the film sandwiched in between.
Farrell is ideally cast in the lead, and gives one of his best performances, and Paz Vega (I guess Penelope Cruz was busy) is quite fine in a not especially meaty role. Legendary actor Christopher Lee has one of his best roles in decades (it’s the most interesting character in the film), showing what diehard fans like myself already know, that he’s an impressive and versatile actor when given the chance (just like Farrell, to a lesser extent). 86 at the time, he walks off with the whole film, which at the end of the day is watchable, but a story which is much ado about nothing. Having Farrell whisper a lot of his dialogue (Irish brogue and all) does not help, I must say. To be honest, this is a bit of a disappointment coming from Tanovic, but Christopher Lee fans will want to check it out at least once.