Route Irish (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Route Irish (15)

Dir. Ken Loach, UK/France/Italy/Belgium/Spain, 2010, 109 mins

Cast: Mark Womack, Andrea Lowe, John Bishop

Review by Carol Allen

This is a contemporary thriller with a powerful story, which throws a new light on the conflict in Iraq.  Being a Ken Loach movie and written by his long term collaborator Paul Laverty, it also has a strong moral and political heart.

Fergus (Womack) comes home to his native Liverpool for the funeral of his childhood friend Frankie (Bishop), a former soldier, who like Fergus has been working as a private security contractor or mercenary soldier in Iraq and has been killed on the notorious “route Irish” of the title – the stretch of road between Baghdad airport and the Green Zone and “the most dangerous road in the world”, as it is described at one point.  But Fergus doesn’t believe the official account of how his friend died and when he discovers footage on Frankie’s mobile phone of the shooting of an Iraqi family a few days before his death, Fergus embarks on his own investigation to uncover the truth.

The film makes good use of relevant contemporary technology – mobile phone videos, Skype conversations and so on, combining grainy flashback footage of the action in Iraq  with the downbeat cityscape of Liverpool, as Fergus pursues his investigation into the grubby and self serving role played by the commercial interests of the security firms, who until 2009 enjoyed an immunity from Iraqi law, which allowed them to indulge in all manner of abuse and profiteering. The verbal accounts and actual depictions of torture procedures used are appropriately gruelling.  One of the most effective elements in terms of settings is Fergus’s Liverpool home, a smart and flashy city apartment sparsely furnished with little more than a computer and a camp bed, giving it the look of belonging to a man who can’t even commit to creating a home for himself and which tells us a lot about the character.

Womack is good as Fergus, Lowe brings some depth to the role of Frankie’s confused widow Rachel and Bishop is effective as Frankie in flashback scenes. The most sympathetic and memorable character though is Southern Kurdistan musician Talib Rasool as Harem, an expatriate Iraqi, who reluctantly agrees to help Fergus. There are also good contributions from Jack Fortune as the smooth, ostensibly charming boss of the security firm, who has been making a fortune out of the war and Geoff Bell as the company’s tough on the ground commander.

The details of the murky story that Fergus is unravelling are though sometimes difficult to follow, which works against our total engagement with the story, and the film overall lacks the pace and tension that we’ve come to expect from a commercial thriller.   But this is a film which is using the thriller genre as a vehicle to say something close to the writer and director’s heart.  And it gathers momentum towards the end, when the security firm sends in their brutal bully boys to deal with the threat posed by Fergus’s investigation.  The closing scenes are horrifying and gripping and the ending shocking.