Crushingly bleak it might be, but what’s really depressing about Route Irish is just how poorly made it is.
Imagine Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah with less laughs and more shouting and you might come close to the dour experience that is Ken Loach’s Route Irish. Fittingly, it begins at a funeral. In Liverpool. It’s where Fergus (Mark Womack), a Scouse SAS officer-turned-mercenary, discovers a mobile phone containing video of an atrocity in Iraq. It suggests that the death of best friend Frankie (John Bishop) while working as highly paid private security contractor in Baghdad was no accident.
What follows works neither as a Get Carter-style mission of self-imploding vengeance nor an emotional detective thriller like Haggis’ heartbreaking 2007 movie. Shot in blank, blunt style by Kes cinematographer Chris Menges, Route Irish never looks better than an '80s TV movie and Loach fails to crank any narrative drive into the plodding drama.
Twisted with guilt and violence, Fergus goes on the warpath to find the truth, hauling in Frankie’s widow, Rachel (Andrea Lowe), and an Iraqi refugee (Talib Hamafraj), while doggedly pursuing the security firm reps (Jack Fortune, Geoff Bell).
The most surprising disappointments are the desperately weak performances, with journeyman actor Womack failing to etch any pathos or complexity into a lead character who does a lot of shouting and little else. To be fair, screenwriter Paul Laverty hands out more clunky exposition than meaningful dialogue. Even a brutal waterboarding scene – apparently performed for real on actor Trevor Williams – is hard to care about.
After The Wind That Shakes the Barley’s Palme d’Or, and the delightful whimsy of Looking for Eric, it seemed Loach could be on a Mike Leigh-style resurgence. But if that Cantona-powered oxymoron (Ken Loach comedy?) appeared to have lifted his rep as the master miserablist of home-nations cinema, this bolts it back into place like never before. Crushingly bleak it might be, but what’s really depressing about Route Irish is just how poorly made it is.
After Looking for Eric, is Loach on a roll?
Crushingly bleak anti-drama erodes your interest with every scene.
Soul-sapping and, well, just not very good.