Friday, July 24, 2009


By D.E.Levine

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Assistant Director: Peter Nightingale
Writer: Guy Hibbert
Producer: Eoin O'Callaghan
Executive Producers: Paul Trijbits, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Patrick Spence, Stephen Wright
Cast: Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt, Anamaria Marinca, Richard Dormer, Mark Davison, Kevin O'Neill, Barry McEvoy, Richard Orr, Paul Garrett, Paula McMcFetridge et al.
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Five Minutes of Heaven is a beautiful and touching story that never took place although it was based on real characters and events.

In 1975 Alistair Little is a 17-year old member of the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force. Eager for the prestige of a kill he asks for a "first kill" assignment and is told to assassinate a young Catholic boy who was warned to leave the area in Lurgen, Ireland and hasn't done so.

Taking his revolver from its hiding place among his childhood toys, he goes, in a stolen car, with four friends to accomplish the task by shooting James Griffin through the living room window with three bullets to the head.

He stares into the eyes of a youngster who is kicking around a soccer ball outside in the street, never knowing that the boy is the younger brother to the youth he just murdered. Making a split second decision, he spares the boy's life and is haunted by his face for the next 33 years.

The four youths then go to a teenage social, using that as an alibi for their whereabouts. Apprehended, Little serves 12 years incarcerated and when released becomes a famous expert on conflict resolution, circling the globe running workshops for traumatized people in war-torn nations.

Meanwhile. Joe Griffen, the young boy who witnessed his brother's murder, was blamed by his mother for doing nothing to stop the murder, and after the dissolution of his family remains in Lurgen stuck in factory labor. Now married with a wife and two daughters he is incredibly bitter harbors a deep and abiding hate for Little imagining that killing him would provide revenge that would give him "five minutes of heaven."

When the film opens, 33 years have passed since the murder and both men are being chauffeured separately to an estate where a British television company has negotiated a meeting between them that will be filmed. It's billed as a form of reconciliation.

Alistair knows that the meeting will be painful for Joe, but is unaware that Joe is carrying a knife with which to kill him in revenge.

While one might assume initially that the film is about truth and reconciliation, it's not. The meeting is aborted and the film kicks into high gear about the psychological relationship existing between the crime's perpetrator (Alistair) and it's victim (Joe).

Alistair Little and Joe Griffen actually exist. They are both real people and the murder of James Griffin by Alistair did take place, with Joe as the surviving witness.

However, the two men have never met and were never slated to do so. Instead, the writer, Guy Hibbert, traveled back and forth between the men, interviewing them individually and asking them about their feelings.

Joe Griffin was honest about his feelings that even after 33 years he remained so bitter that if he was ever in a room with Alistair Little he would kill him. But Little was unaware of these intense feelings until he read the script.

The story, as written by Hibbert and acted by Neeson and Nesbitt, is actually a story of "what if this had happened?" It never actually happened and was never planned to happen.

Interestingly, both lead actors grew up in Ballymena, Northern Ireland and Neeson, a Catholic portrays a Protestant, while Nesbitt, a Protestant portrays a Catholic.

Both actors also had a different approach to creating their characters. Neeson waited until the last day of filming to meet Alistair Little. Nesbitt spent countless hours with Joe Griffin, talking to and video taping him. His portrayal is riveting.

Whether or not the two men will ever actually meet is yet to be decided and probably not in the foreseeable future. Convinced that his brother's murder in 1975 ruined his life before it even began, it was only after participating in the film that Joe Griffin start receiving trauma counseling for the first time since the murder.