This weekend I watched a movie starring Liam Neeson called Five Minutes of Heaven. The movie basically is about an imagined attempt at reconciliation between a man, Alistair Little (played by Liam Neeson, who yet again delivers a moving performance), who murdered the brother of another man, Joe Griffin (played by James Nesbitt, an actor who I was not familiar with, but was impressed by his performance) during what the Irish refer to as “the Troubles.” Based on a real event, the movie imagined what might happen if these two men decided to meet. The film reminded me of another powerful movie I watched earlier this year this year on HBO. Taking Chance, also based on a true story, is about a military escort, Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (played superbly by Kevin Bacon) who escorts the body of a 19-year-old Marine, Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, killed in Iraq back home to his family.
In an era where lots of noise about the big movies like Transformers, Harry Potter or Angels and Demons, “little movies” like these often get over looked by the general public, particularly when they don’t play in theaters. I understand the escapist nature of movies and particularly in a time of recession the need for it, but I still believe that a good story never fails to entertain and in these case of these films, educate. As a storyteller, I appreciate the simple yet complex story that both these films tell and tell well. Both movies, feature only a few characters and occur in everyday places. Some of the most thought-provoking scenes in Five Minutes of Heaven take place during car rides where Alistair and Joe individually reflect on how this one act of violence has impacted their lives. In Taking Chance, powerful scenes occur on a plane when a stewardess gives Lt. Col. Strobl a cross and on the tarmac where the flight crew, without being asked, line-up to honor the fallen soldier.
These “little movies”, each about 90 minutes long, say a lot about violence, war, regret, acceptance, reconciliation and forgiveness without beating the viewer over the head. “Show don’t tell” is one of the first rules of good writing and both movies succeed at showing the internal struggles of the characters and thus the viewer can feel their pain. Less is in deed more. In a world of endless information, we are constantly bombarded by the rantings of self-interested talking heads, frustrated commentators and ego-driven politicos, constantly touting their beliefs and trying desperately to force-feed them to others. None of the men in these movies made grand speeches about the evils of war and violence or espoused platitudes about morality. You got the sense that these were ordinary people trying to cope with extraordinary circumstances and trying simply to do the right thing according to their own values. They were trying to make sense out of senseless actions and find sanity in a world that seems to be edging closer to the brink of some type of collapse.
As a writer, I want and hope to hone my craft so that I can tell a powerful story in such a moving way. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the talent of others and hope more writers, actors and directors take on projects such as these.