The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Loach, 2006)

Loach’s film beautifully resonates universal themes dealing with oppression, foreign occupation, and familial loyalty, but always from a reserved, and slightly disturbing distance. Set in 1920’s Ireland, Loach fills his opening act with British soldiers soiling the lush Irish countryside with brutality, instigating a simmering level of homegrown rebellion. It’s supposed to be a small example of many which are rising up against the Crown, and Loach directs these initial moments brilliantly, showing Cillian Murphy’s young doctor Damien grow into radicalism and his brother Teddy begin to take charge of the politics involved. Reactionary violence creates more bloodshed, leveling lives on both sides of the conflict, yet the humanity gets lost in the shuffle. Whether or not this was Loach’s intent, The Wind That Shakes the Barley doesn’t convincingly evolve as a story, and when the inevitable compromise between British and Irish politicians forces the brothers into conflict, Loach wears his message far to close to the sleeve. The ending is supposed to be devastating, yet it feels entirely anti-climactic since the characters have postured for far too much of the story over tired ideologies. In that sense, even though made with the best intentions and often with expert craftsmanship, Loach misses a chance to analyze the personal demons hiding behind the overarching suffering of the Irish, and in turn an example of the human condition as a whole.

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