Truth. Reconciliation. Revenge. For much of the first hour, Five Minutes of Heaven brilliantly submerges these themes under a wave of memory and trauma, cross-cutting between turbulent past and bubbling present. As Allistair Little (Liam Nesson) remembers the day he assassinated an innocent Catholic man in the streets of Lurgan, so does the victim’s little brother Joe, who witnessed the crime as a child and is now a trembling mess of a man (played to perfection by James Nesbitt). The two converge for a planned meeting, pushed to fruition by a BBC-style program vainly hoping to achieve some closure on past events, and the tension peaks as each man sits in their separate spaces waiting for a film crew to dictate their historical confrontation.
Sadly, Five Minutes of Heaven shifts gears and drops this approach of guilt by separation, putting the narrative into the now active hands of the two tormented protagonists. The idea of time and space gnawing at these two men becomes strangely moot, and the story begins to force false reactions from characters who’ve been so successful at conveying epic emotions through subtle twitches in psyche.
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who garnered such a brilliant performance from Bruno Ganz in Downfall, loves to confront an actor’s face, in this instance with frontal close-ups of Nesbitt as he squirms in the backseat of limo, battling his memories with a mental sledgehammer. His physical presence rolls in and out of consciousness, transposing three decades of trauma into a cramped space. It’s a key reminder of the great story hidden under the false sense of collective relief blatantly apparent by film’s end, best on display during a highly ridiculous fight sequence and a somewhat Hollywood denouement.