Sunday, May 6, 2012

Neglected Gem #12: Nothing Personal (1995)

It’s a funny thing about movies. They may get critical acclaim, even score some box office success and years later they’re barely mentioned by anyone or even remembered. And there’s often no discernible reason for their fates. I really can’t tell why Neil Jordan’s terrific and accessible heist movie The Good Thief, which got good reviews when it came out in 2002, has pretty much vanished into the ether. Or why Steve Jordan’s powerful documentary Stevie (2002) failed to match the impact of his earlier 1994 doc Hoop Dreams. Or even why The Lord of the Rings’s Peter Jackson’s mock 1995 documentary Forgotten Silver didn’t become the cult hit it should have been. In any case, here is the latest entry in a series of disparate movies you really ought to see.

In Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, a truce was called between the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Defense Force. As Nothing Personal makes abundantly clear, peace doesn't mean old hatreds are forgotten; as exemplified by a traitorous Protestant power-broker (Michael Gambon), it can be even unclear who the opposing sides are.

John Lynch and James Frain in Nothing Personal
 At first, it's hard to tell Nothing Personal's characters apart, because director Thaddeus O'Sullivan simply picks up everyone's lives in flux, revolving around family, socializing and politicking. Of course, that's the point: the Protestants and Catholics aren't that different from one another but, like the artificial boundaries that divide their Belfast neighbourhoods, the crevice between the creeds seems insurmountable. When Liam (John Lynch), a Catholic single father, discovers his young son has entered the ‘dangerous’ Protestant sector, he sets off after him, precipitating a confrontation with his enemies – most notably with Kenny, a young Protestant hit man (Ian Hart, who's chilling).

Loosely plotted, but very visceral, Nothing Personal gets at the constant tension, fear and potential for violent outbreak that was and still, to some degree, is the Northern Irish reality. But it also allows for the presence of decency. Nothing Personal is also concerned with the sins of the fathers becoming the sins of the sons, like the similarly themed In the Name of the Father, but, to my mind, even more so than Jim Sheridan’s movie, it better balances the personal and political.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches regular courses at Ryerson University's LIFE Institute, and is currently teaching a course on American cinema of the 70s.

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