BARELY seventeen, Alistair Little assassinates nineteen year old Jim Griffin.
Alistair is Protestant. Jim is Catholic. And in Belfast, 1975, a city bloodied and bombed by sectarian violence, that is reason enough for the Ulster Volunteer Force’s newest recruit to gun Jim down in his home, the boy desiring to make a name for himself as a hero.
Jim’s younger brother Joe is the only witness. He’s eleven.
Fast forward thirty-three years later, and Alistair (Liam Neeson) and Joe (James Nesbitt) are grown men given the opportunity to reconcile. They have both agreed to a live-to-air meeting via an Irish television program that acts as means of healing for victims of the Troubles.
Alistair has served twelve years for his crime. The perpetrator has grown into a reserved, respected man, if still haunted by blood guilt. It is both fitting and ironic that he is a reknowned expert on conflict resolution.
Joe is a man eroded by a lust for retribution, having continued to be a witness to the devastation caused by the murder. He has borne constant accusations from his mother that he could somehow have prevented his brother’s murder, and watched his father’s sorrow slowly defeat him.
Will Joe be able to forgive Alistair for the destruction of his family? Does he really want to, or is the meeting his opportunity for cold sweet revenge, his “five minutes in heaven”?
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, Five Minutes of Heaven raises many questions about generational violence and reconciliation. With masterful performances from Neeson and Nesbitt, it is a terse, yet ultimately hopeful film which explores the emotional impact of a meeting between two men tainted by inter-communal conflict.
Do we sympathise with the man who was originally the killer, who has attempted to make good of his life? Or do we feel the man who craves retribution needs his five minutes of heaven in order to deal with the tragedy, and that his vengeance is justifiable?
Perhaps the greatest barriers to reconciliation and redemption are those walls built in our own minds and memories.
Readers may be interested to note that the film was based on real life individuals, with Hirschbiegel and screenwriter Guy Hibbert imagining a meeting between Little and Griffin.
Five Minutes of Heaven opens in theatres from March 18.