Ken Loach casts his eye, and his lens, on the murky world of private paramilitary Western security contractors in Iraq, and falls flat.
Fergus (Mark Womack), a former soldier and one of those contractors, back into his native Liverpool, finds fishy the explanation given to the death of his childhood friend and comrade in arms, Frankie (John Bishop), in the so-called Route Irish, the most dangerous road in the world, linking Baghdad airport with the Green Zone. The official view of Frankie’s death was that he was on the wrong place at the wrong time. This phrase proves to be key for the development of the story.In fact, his patrol was involved in the killing of a family and children driving in a taxi.
Route Irish hovers hesitantly between being cinema vérité and political thriller, and does not really succeed in either genre, being too contrived and flat to be a thriller, and taking too many nods to Hollywood-like action movies to be an exposé of the dark practices of former military people metamorphosed into private security firms. It has a nominal love interest between Fergus and Frankie's wife, Rachel (Andrea Lowe), which I felt it distracted from the line taken by the story.
The script play gives a disjointed feel to the film, on long parts it just plods its fragmented story line through, although the action sequences made me jump on my seat. I have often found that the most effective critical films do not overtly carry the politics on their T-shirts, which is my main objection to Route Irish. It does not add anything to either my intellectual or emotional understanding of the issues surrounding the use of private paramilitary contractors on Iraq – the characters being extremely unsympathetic, the performances being contrived and stiff, like if the actors were reading their lines from a script board rather than feeling them. I also felt that Route Irish came two years too late.
The final twist, linking to the beginning of the film, felt unplausible, debasing Route Irish from being a worthy exploration of the abuses and corruption of trigger happy security firms into just another Hollywood-like action thriller, and a rather anaemic at that.
The visuals are good, particularly the long loving shots of the River Mersey. However, there is nothing exceptional in them.
Whilst lacking the passion that gave earlier Ken Loach’s films their strength, Route Irish still casts a worthy eye on the murky world of private security contractors operating in Baghdad, and elsewhere, indeed, closing with an unexpected, although somewhat implausible, twist.
Director: Ken Loach
Cast: Mark Womack, John Bishop, Andrea Lowe
Route Irish is in selected cinemas now in Britain.
Trailer and still © Artificial Eye