Director: Ken Loach Starring: John Bishop, Mark Womack, Geoff Bell Time Out rating:
Ken Loach and his screenwriting collaborator Paul Laverty bring the sadistic backroom machinations of war-ravaged Iraq and Afghanistan – waterboarding and car bombing – to the streets of Liverpool in this passionate, if rough-hewn, anti-war thriller. Mark Womack delivers a dark and dynamic performance as Fergus, a self-hating, nouveau riche ex-squaddie out to discover what happened to recently deceased ‘bessie mate’ Frankie (John Bishop) on Route Irish, the road linking Baghdad airport to the treacherous ‘Green Zone’. Though portrayed as genial cheeky chappies looking for a break, Fergus and Frankie – whose near-homoerotic camaraderie is the main driver of the narrative – decide to head back to Iraq in the guise of independently contracted security guards, and the dividends reaped by this high-risk job come with serious moral reprisals.
Recalling elegiac war crime procedurals like In the Valley of Elah, it’s a tougher and more genre-inspired work than we’d expect from social-realist doyen Loach. But its tight focus on a corrupted white male gunning for retribution creates a neat symmetry with titles like My Name Is Joe and even Looking for Eric. Communication is a central motif, especially when examining the limits of technology when it comes to relaying the truth of a complex situation. Politically, the film does not mince its words in presenting Fergus and his bosses as scavengers out to line their pockets with the spoils of war. But it doesn’t go any further than that, keeping details of the contractors’ work and relationship with ‘official’ bodies scant (the film unfolds in the UK, bar a few flashbacks). Dialogue scenes have an impressive, semi-improvised fluidity, while action set-ups mostly fall flat: one where Fergus bugs the car of an old colleague he suspects of foul play is handled in a disappointingly inert fashion.