Belfast in the mid-70s. Despite a certain amount of IRA connections, Niall Hennessy (Rod Steiger) has sworn off all violence for whatever Cause. This changes when his wife and daughter are shot – not exactly on purpose - by a panicked British soldier (who is afterwards promptly killed by an IRA sniper) during a minor riot that goes catastrophically wrong.
Before his family is even buried, Hennessy takes off to London – the promised
killing of the whole British squad involved by his former IRA buddies isn’t
quite enough for him, it seems. Instead, Hennessy’s planning to blow up the
British parliament on opening day, timed to kill every MP, the House of Lords,
the Queen and most of the rest of the Royal Family. That’s not a plan the IRA
would reasonably underwrite, so Hennessy is soon hunted by his former best
friend Sean Tobin (Eric Porter) as well as equally damaged Special Branch
Inspector Hollis (Richard Johnson).
Don Sharp’s mid-70s thriller is – not unexpectedly – quite a good film that
does some rather interesting things, most of them well. Particularly striking is
the horrible awkwardness of the violence in it, the death of Hennessy’s family
setting up the style in which the film portrays violence as something that –
once put in motion – tends to escalate to the point of catastrophe, something
that would be funny if it didn’t leave so many dead bodies; the idea of
controlled violence committed by professionals leading to computable results
contemporary action cinema loves a little too much is completely alien to the
film. Here, things escalate, people make mistakes, and innocents have to die for
them, until mass murder doesn’t feel so much like a choice anyone makes but as
something they just happen to commit because that’s what using violence to solve
any conflict in the end will lead to.
Sharp isn’t much for Peckinpah-style slow motion blood baths in his portrayal
of bloodshed; the tone of the violence here is much more matter of fact, lending
everything that happens a – quite horrible – kind of logic. Generally, Sharp
goes for the gritty and unsentimental style you’d expect from this kind of
thriller shot in 1975, and doing the expectedly good job with it.
The director also somehow manages to reign in Rod Steiger’s love for
scenery-chewing, dragging a quieter and more effective performance out of him
whose only flaw is the bad Irish accent. But then, the film is full of those –
just listen to what Lee Remick does -so I won’t blame Steiger too much.