out of Five
Running time: 117
Watchable thriller that somehow fails to engage, despite a strong central performance from Jim Sturgess.
What's it all about?
Directed by Kari Skogland, Fifty Dead Men Walking is loosely based on the true story of informer Martin McGartland, played by Jim Sturgess. Recruited as a young lad by Special Branch officer Fergus (Ben Kingsley), McGartland works his way up the ranks as a volunteer for the IRA, feeding information to Fergus and saving several lives in the process.
Meanwhile, Martin romances local girl Lara (Natalie Press) and the pair eventually marry and start a family. However, his double life becomes increasingly precarious and he's aware that it's only a matter of time before his role as an informant is exposed, putting both his own life and his family's lives in danger.
Jim Sturgess delivers a superb performance, nailing the Belfast accent and managing to keep McGartland relatively sympathetic throughout. There's also strong support from Kingsley (generously downplaying the twinkly mentor routine) and an under-used Press, as well as Kevin Zegers as McGartland's best friend, Sean.
The problem is that the gear-changes between real life drama and explosive action-packed thriller are often painfully obvious (perhaps unsurprisingly, McGartland has disowned the script) and in trying to be both, the film succeeds as neither. Similarly, the bizarre casting of Rose McGowan as flame-haired IRA temptress Grace throws the film horribly off course, partly because she seems to think she's in a different film and partly because her performance is so embarrassingly bad.
In addition, the film's clumsy framing device (in which a visibly older McGartland is shot six times) backfires badly, as it robs the ‘80s-set sequences of any tension as regards whether or not McGartland makes it out alive. As such, it's hard to engage on an emotional level and the film fails to deliver the punch to the gut that it's aiming for.
Despite a strong performance from Sturgess, Fifty Dead Men Walking is ultimately let down by a lack of tension, an uneven script and the shocking miscasting of Rose McGowan.
Fifty Dead Men Walking (15)