Dir: Ken Loach
Starring: Mark Womack
Running Time: 109 minutes
Will Ken Loach ever make a Hollywood movie? I would wager not, but I’ll be damned if Route Irish isn’t the closest thing he’ll ever come.
in the opening scene we meet Fergus (Mark Womack) in a contemplative mood on a ferry going along the Mersey river with voice mail messages of his best mate Frankie (John Bishop) begging him to talk playing in his head. A war veteran turned private security contractor in Iraq, he convinced Frankie to join him for a big pay off. We’re next shown the outcome: the funeral of his life long friend. Unwilling to accept the circumstances surrounding his death – he claims Frankie was “born lucky” – he goes on an obsessive search to discover what really happened.
Teaming up with regular scribe Paul Laverty, Loach goes in a direction you’d certainly not expect from his previous work. Left in another director’s hands and with a slight cosmetic makeover – swap Liverpool for New York, draft in an A-lister like Matt Damon – Route Irish would easily fit in the political thriller category. Where many would have focused on the macro, Loach gives us the micro.
Driving the whole film is Womack’s performance, calm and cold but with the impending volcanic explosion of rage only a blink away. He’s an extremely flawed character, his anger and regret leading him to make rash and naive decisions. As an audience, it’s this that leads you wondering just what he may be capable of and second guessing his next action. He shares similar traits with Paddy Considine’s character in Shane Meadow’s excellent Dead Man’s Shoes, brutal in attack but self aware of the monster he is slowly becoming. It could be said that both were never able to truly leave the military – Fergus’ apartment, though modern, gives the impression of a barracks, even down to the fold-out bed and sleeping bag. Aiding his search is Frankie’s girlfriend Rachel (Andrea Lowe), who’s finding it hard to understand the close bond shared between him and Fergus, one that saw them share absolutely everything – women included. In his acting debut, comedian John Bishop gives a caricature of his live persona – warm, gregarious and with a massive toothy grin at all times.
An interesting take on a political thriller, Route Irish works at its best when Loach sticks to what he knows best. Early scenes of the funeral, humour found in a blind war vet playing football and a highly disturbing waterboarding scene -actor Trevor Williams suffered the torture for authenticity – are the moments you’ll leave with. The scenes of decoding phone messages, planting GPS trackers and spying on shady money men are of little interest. Loach’s films have always been at their most emotionally effecting when it’s people under the microscope, not the events that got them there.