Saturday, August 13, 2016

In short: Hennessy (1975)

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.

No comments: