As a film itself, 50 DEAD MEN WALKING is good, but nothing special. We’ve seen pretty much every aspect of this story before; the undercover operative struggling with his identity, the toll it takes on his wife and kids and his father-son relationship with his handler. But the true story of Martin McGartland, based on his own autobiography no less (the title comes from the number of lives he saved as an informant), was fascinating and enthralling to me; just thinking that this guy is still somewhere out there in hiding kept this story in my head much longer than it would’ve otherwise.
Although a bit predictable, the movie is still effective and interesting, presenting a dangerous and volatile world that still existed in recent times And while I can think of a number of films from the point of view of the IRA, it’s interesting to see a take on the opposite end of the spectrum. 50 DEAD MEN WALKING doesn’t truly take sides; like any movie about a war or conflict, there’s no real winner. Loyalty, principle and sacrifice exist on both fronts when they think they’re right. And that situation is filtered through the personal lens of McGartland, which Jim Sturgess presents admirably.
Sturgess never really stood out in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE or 21, but here he shows some impressive acting chops, losing himself in the main role. It’s a gritty, emotional and tough performance to crack and the young actor pulled it off. Ben Kingsley on the other hand doesn’t really have much to do in the role of McGartland’s MI5 handler. It’s a necessary but non-flashy role, and if you were hoping for Kingsley to go all SEXY BEAST on us, you’re going to be disappointed. Rose McGowan also pops up with an Irish accent in a rather thankless part. (No machine gun leg this time.)
Director Kari Skogland does a nice job with the material, although occasionally things came off a little too stylized and gimmicky, while other parts were clearly heightened for cinematic effect. I think she, as well as everyone else involved, really lucked out with McGartland’s true story to work with.
Behind the Scenes (32:42): Over a half hour of raw B-roll footage from film’s production. This is the kind of stuff I’d rather see, the basic mechanics of filmmaking as opposed to the fluff EPK stuff we usually get.
Extra Tidbit: McGartland also published a second book, Dead Man Running, about his life on the run and in hiding.