Fifty Dead Men Walking - Blu-ray Review

'in Kingsley, the director guarantees herself a bona fide great; in Sturgess, a megastar in waiting'

In Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess, Kari Skogland's Fifty Dead Men Walking features both one of English acting's finest ever talents and one of English acting's current hot prospects. In Kingsley, Skogland guarantees herself a bona fide great; in Sturgess, a megastar in waiting.

Lumbered with an awful title which is only linked to the plot late on, Skogland's film starts off with an impossible task: explain the history of The Troubles - from, roughly, the IRA's inception to present day - in less than five minutes using a montage. It's an inauspicious start. For those familiar with the situation in Northern Ireland in the eighties and early nineties the film adds no new information For those unfamiliar with it, a Sturgess monologue over some newsreel hardly feels like adequate education.

After we've dodged some scenes designed to show exactly how dangerous NI was at the time, things start to pick up. Sturgess is a likable presence and Kingsley is as solid as ever, establishing the running order between the two with Sexy Beast-style patient and measured dialogue. The simple pleasure of watching a standard 'behind-enemy-lines' plot grinding through its motions is well managed by Skogland who marries stock scenes of character-dependant intrigue with attempts to widen out the narrative and locate it in the coherent context her opening fluffs so obviously. For these parts of the film - as British agent Fergus (Kingsley) handles his asset Martin (Sturgess), pushing him into deeper and darker territory - Fifty Dead Men Walking works and works effectively.

Where the film doesn't work is in its familial plot developments and in its all too brief attempts to pry too deeply into the political machinations of the period. Fergus and Martin are shown to both have family issues and more than one attempt is made to portray Fergus as an older version of Martin. A great deal of time too is spent with Martin's family all so, apparently, we can have our heartstrings tugged at when the inevitable information cards play at the end of the film. The details of the conflict meanwhile - most notably the practice of collusion - are touched on but not given enough time to breathe or even to be explained, producing a layered narrative where only half of the layers feel anywhere near satisfactory.

A decent attempt at a complex story but this either needed to be much tighter and restrictive in its plotting, or fully developed into a three-hour epic. As it is, it's an hours worth of really good thriller material stifled by several other elements which feel incomplete.

Look further...

'its lack of political nous and cinematic ambition makes it seem small on the big screen' - Time Out, 3/5


  1. Was I the only one giggling at Rose McGowan's accent? I mean, she actually said 'chars'.

  2. Ah, the Irish accent. Always good for a couple of giggles.