Based on the remarkable true story of the British undercover agent who successfully infiltrated the IRA, writer/director Kari Skogland’s thriller takes its title from author Martin McGartland’s best selling book of the same name. In the 1980s when the Irish civil conflict was at its most treacherous, 22 year old Martin McGartland was recruited by the British police to infiltrate and spy on the IRA. He lived his life under constant threat of exposure and subsequent guaranteed torture and death yet he continued because his information saved many lives. He enjoyed the buzz until one day he was discovered and had to escape against all odds.
Marty McGartland is a 22-year-old street hustler from Ireland, living in the 1980s. He gets noticed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army|Irish Republican Army, but thinks their cruel justice is no good. The British want to use Marty as well, because of his connection to the community undetected. The British police want him to infiltrate and spy on the IRA. Marty decides to work for the police because of his IRA dislike. He soon forgets his political preferences when his powerful position takes over. Despite fearing that the IRA will find out about his spying, he builds up a new sense of self esteem. Afraid his family and friends will be murdered if they are informed, Marty starts to lead a double life. Even his new girlfriend Lara knows nothing of his work. Things start to take their toll when the British sell them out. They explain their system could fall down and reveal Marty was their bait all along. The IRA capture and torture Marty, but he is able to escape. His best friend and former British police colleague finds Marty and decides to help him hide. Marty knows the IRA will turn to his family and is forced to make a decision, saving himself or his beloved ones.
Premiering at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and still at press time not having a release date in the United States or The United Kingdom is the controversial crime thriller Fifty Dead Men Walking. The subject matter is sensitive and during a time that no person enjoyed to live through. Skogland does a solid job directing the film and it does become tense in its final act. However, the Irish accents are really thick throughout the film that it is very hard to catch everything in the dialogue. The action picks up in the second half of the film, but the first half is so crucial in establishing so much character and development that the dialogue tells much of the story. As a loose or even fictionalized adaptation, Skogland seems to have delivered an effective story. However, McGartland has objected and criticized the film, he even tried to block the release of the film, but a settlement was made. He concluded that Fifty Dead Men Walking is not a true account of my story, while the producers of the film stated that it is inspired by the contents and that McGartland decided not to use a fictional name for the lead character in the film. McGartland also criticized the consultation of former IRA members by Skogland. More controversy followed the film when Rose McGowan, who plays powerful IRA member Grace Sterrin in the film, stated at the premiere of the film that if she would have grown up in Belfast that she would have 100 percent have been in the IRA. This extra controversy to the film besides it already dealing with sensitive material is not helping the film find a distributor or a release date. Jim Sturgess and Ben Kingsley are exceptional in the film and share a tender chemistry, which is pivotal towards their actions in the third act of the film.
Fifty Dead Men Walking is a good, but not a great film. The biggest distraction of the film is the thick Irish accents, which make it hard to understand all of the film dialogue especially in the first half. It is discouraging that this film has disrupt its main source in Martin McGartland, when this film was made to inspire his life, but he does not agree with the film and it is not helping the film to try to find a release date after premiering in September.
Director: Kari Skogland
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Awards: 4 wins & 2 nominations
Jim Sturgess – Martin McGartland
Ben Kingsley – Fergus
Kevin Zegers – Sean
Natalie Press – Lara
Rose McGowan – Grace
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