Half of Five Minutes of Heaven really happened: In 1975, during the thick of conflict in Northern Ireland, 11-year-old Irish-Catholic Joe Griffin witnessed the assassination of his older brother, Jim, at the hands of 17-year-old ?Irish-Protestant Alistair Little. Three decades later, Griffin is an angry, stricken man. Little, who served time in prison, now runs workshops in conflict resolution for prisoners.
The other half of this earnest, urgent movie is a fantasy: What if the adult Griffin (James Nesbitt) and Little (Liam Neeson) were offered their own session of conflict resolution? On television, no less, at a stately home rented for the purpose? Five Minutes of Heaven — the phrase is Griffin’s description of how he’d feel avenging his brother’s death — isn’t a ballsy truth-bender like Inglourious Basterds. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) and screenwriter Guy Hibbert (Omagh) take pains to honor psychological truth. But in that quest, and especially in the convoluted dramatic conceit of a camera crew filming so intimate a confrontation, the film’s artifice battles the subject matter. It’s ?an original movie idea that feels written for the stage, all the more so since so much of our attention is diverted to admiring how the actors act, in roles with a high degree of technical ? difficulty. A forceful Neeson and an even more intense Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday) both show their stuff and obscure the unrelieved pain ? endured by the men they portray. B-
(Five Minutes of Heaven is also available on cable on-demand services.)