Star rating – 9/10
Although set in Liverpool in 2007, this latest offering from national treasure Ken Loach is all about the Iraq war, and specifically the role of the armed private security contractors, some may say mercenaries, who flocked to the region following the end of the war, and exploited the grim situation there for monetary gain.
Mark Womack is excellent as ex contractor and ex SAS man Fergus, who is bereft at the loss of his best friend since school days, Frankie, who has been killed on the most dangerous road in the world, Route Irish, which takes those who dare from Baghdad airport to the Green Zone. Comedian John Bishop is Frankie, who appears in flashback, as the film opens with his death. Ken Loach didn’t know how famous Bishop would quickly become when he cast him, and he is very convincing in his short but highly significant role in the action.
Fergus is obviously suffering from a breakdown, at the loss of his near brother; from the post traumatic stress of existing after the horrors he has seen in war and the so –called peace that followed; and of guilt. For it was really only through his persuasion that Frankie was there in the first place, to collect his £10k per month tax free wages, and to be with his beloved Fergus. The scene where Fergus breaks into Frankie’s coffin in the church, needing to see and touch him one last time, is harrowing and brilliantly performed.
But Fergus just can’t accept the version of events told to the family by the bosses of the contracting firm – that Frankie was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He knows him better than that. The plot thickens when he acquires a mobile phone that Frankie wanted him, and no-one else, to have if anything happened to him. The video clip on it suggests a murder and a cover up that Frankie was far from happy with. Fergus’ attempts to uncover the truth about what happened to Frankie are not so much a thriller, although there are certainly elements of that in the drama. As this is Ken Loach, you can guarantee that it is the political message that is the key.
Loach’s target in making this brutal and moving film are the ‘criminal sons of bitches on the make’ that Fergus comes to realise he has been one of. There are no heroes here. Fergus is haunted by the atrocities he has witnessed. He and Frankie’s partner, Rachel (Andrea Lowe), cling to each other in desperation, attracted and repelled from the other in equal measure. This is a powerful and shocking film with a very potent message. And from Loach to be honest we would expect nothing less.