sat 21/09/2019

Route Irish | reviews, news & interviews

Route Irish

Route Irish

Ken Loach can't decide if this is a polemical or pyrotechnical war movie

Brothers in arms: John Bishop and Mark Womack

Route Irish isn’t the St Patrick's Day parade along Fifth Avenue in New York, but the “most dangerous road in the world”, from Baghdad airport to the relative safety of the heavily fortified Green Zone. With impressively opportunistic timing, Route Irish’s makers release it the day after the Irish saint’s celebrations but anyone expecting shamrockery will be disappointed - Ken Loach’s latest is a smile-free affair set among the lawless private security firms that “supported” the allies after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Route Irish isn’t the St Patrick's Day parade along Fifth Avenue in New York, but the “most dangerous road in the world”, from Baghdad airport to the relative safety of the heavily fortified Green Zone. With impressively opportunistic timing, Route Irish’s makers release it the day after the Irish saint’s celebrations but anyone expecting shamrockery will be disappointed - Ken Loach’s latest is a smile-free affair set among the lawless private security firms that “supported” the allies after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Frankie (John Bishop) and Fergus (Mark Womack) are boyhood pals rom Liverpool who were once, unbelievably, in the SAS together and are now back in civvy life, Frankie as a debt collector and Fergus as a civilian contractor for a security firm in Iraq, or a mercenary as the locals would call him. He persuades Frankie to do a tour for 10 grand a month, during which he is killed on Route Irish.

Fergus, overcome with grief, tries to find an explanation for his friend’s death but quickly comes to the conclusion that it was not as the company have described it - he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” they blithely say. His suspicions appear founded when a mobile phone containing footage of Frankie’s death in a shoot-up involving civilians falls into his hands. When he asks an Iraqi refugee for help in translating the phone’s messages and the man is attacked by masked thugs, Fergus becomes convinced that his life is in danger too.

Thrown into the mix is Fergus’s deepening relationship with Rachel (Andrea Lowe, pictured below), Frankie’s girlfriend - “We shared everything,” he creepily says - who blames him for her lover’s death, a fact that strangely doesn't stop her having sex with him. As Fergus, along with the plot, becomes ever more confused about who is telling the truth, he embarks on a revenge mission to take out those he thinks are responsible for Frankie’s death.

RI_-_AE_-03Loach, as with his previous work Looking for Eric, uses both professional and non-professional actors and the action moves between Liverpool and Iraq; he includes some real news footage and video of US soldiers mistreating Iraqi civilians, which doesn’t explain Fergus’s plight but adds to the confusion about how he has gone from proud Tommy to cynical soldier of war. Route Irish covers similar territory to 2009’s In the Valley of Elah, where Tommy Lee Jones investigated the mysterious death of his son on a military base, and last year’s mini-series Occupation (ITV), in which James Nesbitt (currently in Monroe on the same channel) and Stephen Graham were troubled soldiers returning from war, but can’t match either of them for drama or emotional engagement.

It’s only when Fergus engages in a war of attrition with those who worked with Frankie - fellow operatives and the greedy company owners who make money out of other people’s misery - that the film picks up any pace, but even then the film goes up a blind alley.

Loach can’t decide whether he’s making a polemic, a love story, a revenge thriller, a conspiracy drama, an action movie or indeed all of them, and Route Irish ends up being a whole lot less than the sum of its parts. The action scenes and pyrotechnics are unconvincing, as is the acting - with the exception of stand-up comic Bishop, even if he is playing a Liverpudlian la’ not a million miles from his stage persona - and Paul Laverty’s script is leaden. One for Ken Loach completists only.Watch the trailer for Route Irish

‘It’s only when Fergus engages in a war of attrition with those who worked with Frankie that the film picks up any pace’

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