Directed by: Ken Loach. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you may have picked up a fairly predominant and unabashed prejudice towards the films of Ken Loach. This one marks the sixth Loach film I’ve seen (in a career that spans far, far more than six films), and it’s possibly my least favourite. Now, as full disclosure, I saw this movie immediately following The Act of Killing, because the DVD was due back at the library, and this film, even at the uppermost heights of its praise, cannot possibly hold a fraction of a candle against The Act of Killing (and I’m going to try to whip up something huge for that one, because Holy Cow). Leaving comparisons aside (as much as I possibly can), I’ll try to weigh this film by its own merits, or at the very least, I’ll weigh it against other fiction films on the topic of the Iraq War—like Kathryn Bigelow’s films—and the other Ken Loach films I’ve seen. As much as I’ve been won over to Loach’s fly-on-the-wall-above-the-kitchen-sink approach to filmmaking, and as much as I absolutely loved some of his films (Sweet Sixteen, Raining Stones, and Kes are fucking masterpieces of cinema basically), I’m starting to come down off my uncritical high of Loachism and admit to myself that there are some aspects of some of his films that don’t quite sit well with me, and that most of them are fairly predominant in this film. At his best, Loach can produce some incredibly moving portraits of humanity that illuminate the class-based struggles of regular people in our current imperfect economic system, not at an academic level, but at the level of the pub and the street corner. At his worst, though, even an uber-fan like myself notices that the dialogue starts to sound less like improvised, realistic conversation and more like an organized Marxist critique of the particular social ill under target in the film. Sort of like late Godard with more human drama. And maybe it was the fact that I watched this after a completely jarring, life-altering experience with The Act of Killing, which no film can top (especially with less than a full day to digest), but this film definitely seemed to present much more impassioned shouting per square inch, and more overt Hollywood-ish drama, than his other films usually have. As interesting as the subject matter was, I think the story leaned a bit too hard on the specific conspiracy plot for it to be effective as any kind of general comment on modern warfare, or the Iraq War specifically. In this respect, I think The Wind That Shakes the Barley succeeded wonderfully in presenting fictional characters in a fictional story while still somehow being general enough to be an allegory on the Irish Revolution and Civil War in general, in a way that this film just felt preachy. The bit with the waterboarding (the protagonist’s moral bombshell realization that waterboarding doesn’t work after all!) was pretty hammy. Basically, the thriller/mystery/conspiracy plot felt pretty weak to me, and the characters holding it together weren’t exactly rock solid either. That main protagonist (Mark Womack) seems to be basically like the crazy, heartless maverick in The Hurt Locker, but much less cool and detached, a fiery hothead who likes to yell and pick fights and generally fly off the handle. His attitude and his actions throughout the film seem to be those of a teenaged football hooligan rather than a grown man, and this hurt my ability to really follow him. Of course—devil’s advocate—this may be exactly what Loach is going for. Maybe, in keeping with his devotion to strict realism, he’s looking at this human being, a flawed, obnoxious, childlike human being, who is not dissimilar perhaps from the type of person drawn to being a private mercenary in a war zone. Maybe, like the affectless idiots in Generation Kill, it’s just too discomforting to admit that maybe these ARE the faces of modern war. I guess I would recommend this movie to anyone interested in good drama, in modern critical war films, or a Ken Loach fan. But it definitely wasn’t my favourite.