Route Irish

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

16 January

Operation Desert Storm starts, 1991

On this day in 1991, in what is now known as the First Gulf War, the troop and weapons mobilisation operation known as Operation Desert Shield came to an end and Operation Desert Storm, the invasion of Iraq, began. The invasion had been prompted by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to seize oil fields and territory that Iraq claimed were rightly theirs – a dispute that went all the way back to when the borders between the two countries were drawn by the British in 1922. Kuwait and the international community didn’t take Iraq’s side in the dispute. More importantly nor did Saudi Arabia. And so a coalition led militarily by the US but sizeably funded by the Saudis set out to reverse the situation. The first stage of Desert Storm consisted of winning the battle in the air. This was easy. The US and partners flew 100,000 sorties and dropped 88,500 tons of bombs, and largely eliminated Iraq’s military infrastructure. The war was essentially over before any ground troops went into action, with a ceasefire being announced within 100 hours of the ground assault starting on 24 February. Because of the air superiority, and the way images from tactical strikes on Iraqi targets were relayed to TV broadcasters, the war became known as the video game war. And because of the limited ground assault, reporting was largely restricted to what the US military wanted the world’s broadcasters to see. One consequence of this lack of real “news” was the promotion of Coalition military commander General “Stormin” Norman Schwarzkopf to pin-up boy.

Route Irish (2010, dir: Ken Loach)

Route Irish is the Ken Loach film for people who don’t like Ken Loach films. What looks like a deliberate attempt by Loach to move away from the social realist, documentary-style films for which he’s been known since the 1960s, the film looks like it’s shaping up to be a bromance but is in fact a political procedural. So far, so Hollywood. It is the story of Fergus (Mark Womack) a security contractor in the seond Iraq war who is trying to find out what the mate Frankie (John Bishop) he recruited into the firm really died from, rather than accept the bland official explanation. It’s a fascinating film in many ways, not least because it’s essentially a big thriller made for a tiny budget. But also because it sees Loach embracing what might be called the YouTube/Skype look, the internetty thing, without going too crassly shakycam. Politically Loach is in interesting territory too – he patriotically points out at one point, for instance, that it was the Americans who were doing the waterboarding, not the Brits. This is probably untrue, and certainly unfair. If a country is going to get involved in a war then it owes it to its allies to take its share of the shit as well as the glory, no? As for those “contractors” – the name Loach and regular screenwriter Paul Laverty never dare speak is “mercenaries”, which is what they were. Do these beefs get in the way of an energetic, angry film that’s been deliberately edited to leave us grasping for information, in the same way Fergus does? Not in the slightest. And in its original decision to tell us the stories that The Hurt Locker and The Green Zone don’t tell – of the outsourcing of war to private companies who aren’t burdened with explaining themselves to their electorates – it enters a territory more film-makers really should be exploring.

Why Watch?

  • Loach’s best film in some years
  • Comedian John Bishop’s brief but lively appearance as Frankie
  • Old dog Loach learns new tricks
  • An untold story worth telling

Route Irish – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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