IN 1975, A 17-YEAR-OLD Protestant, Alistair Little, put three bullets into the skull of blue-collar Catholic, Jim Griffin, as he watched television in his parents' living room. The crime was just another act of spilled blood in the senseless era of violence that overtook Northern Ireland during a period of strife known as "the troubles." A 33-year prison term and a newfound gig as a public speaker on crime and redemption later, a saddened Little (here in Five Minutes of Heaven, played by a perfect, as always, Liam Neeson) agrees to meet with Griffin's younger brother Joe (portrayed masterfully by a jittery James Nesbitt), for a televised interview. While Little might be reformed, the emotionally unbalanced Joe—the only witness to his brother's murder—has other plans. (Here's a hint: He has a knife.)
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, The Invasion), Five Minutes of Heaven deals in the heavy hand of redemption and reconciliation, along with the understanding that those two things are not necessarily a two-way street for all concerned parties. Filmed in three parts—the murder, the televised meeting gone awry, and a final confrontation between the two wounded souls—the movie is not shy about portraying both Little and Griffin as a pair of men still reeling from a single tragic event, although their grief manifests itself differently: Little is calm and understanding, while Griffin wants to stab the pain away.
As the memory of his brother's death continues to haunt his every move well into adulthood, Griffin becomes submerged in his catharsis to the point of sheer madness, while Little's peaceful façade quickly erodes when confronted by the skeletons of family history. Both Nesbitt and Neeson are fantastic, suffering by each other's side as two men unable to escape the long and painful shadow of their past.