Social realist filmmaker Ken Loach tackles the Iraq War in Route Irish, and while the project seems ripe with possibilities, the result is sadly lacking. Loach's style does not lend itself easily to the political thriller and, within the framework of Route Irish, his thematic concerns wither. Loach actually seems weary in his approach. His drama plays more like a compendium of the director's past successes, but there's not much new in the details to bind them. Angered by the questions that remain after the suspicious death of his close friend, Fergus (Mark Womack) searches for answers himself. A regular bloke once again rails against injustice, but this time Loach simply sets the pitch too high: this time his character driven focus fails him. Fans of this filmmaker will maintain their loyalty and go see it; I suspect that not too many others will bother. Besides, it may prove too early to revisit this war.
Fergus and Frankie (John Bishop), childhood friends with a brotherly bond, join a private security contractor in Iraq. When Frankie comes home in a coffin, Fergus is not only devastated but implicated—he convinced Frankie to sign up for the money. Frankie leaves him with a package containing only a cell phone. The phone contains a video of an Iraqi family being deliberately incinerated in a car. To assuage his guilt and possibly put the troubles of his dead friend to rest, he commits himself to answering Frankie's cryptic, posthumous request.
Fergus holes up in his apartment, outfitted with the best technology for deciphering this mystery. Trouble is he hasn't much else, both literally and figuratively. It quickly becomes apparent that he has no support, support which he desperately needs to neutralize his own demons. He has been traumatized by this tour of duty and now he has Frankie's blood on his hands. As he confronts the hyper-charged circumstances of Frankie's death, it's no wonder that Fergus constantly explodes with vitriolic anger—which isn't necessarily easy to watch. Sympathetic as he is, Fergus simply becomes the embodiment of one prolonged scream.
There's a moral core to this film but it is overshadowed by the cold-hearted intrigue. This is a misguided use of Loach's themes and tropes. Route Irish establishes the perfect setting to explore the bonds between men, as he did in his acclaimed The Wind That Shakes The Barley, however the subtlety of approach apparent in that 2006 drama is absent here. Those men were flawed but earnest; these men are more like principled guns for hire. Characters in this film, Liverpool's down and out, are perfectly suited to Loach's vision, but these interesting souls are soon lost in the details of the larger political thriller.
In fact, Loach's lingering style, focused so much on the quotidian lives of his characters, does not mesh with the amassing of tension necessitated by the central mystery. That familiar raw poetry is sorely missed. The themes that Route Irish only briefly alights constitute a Loach film, the raw political throughline does not. In the end, context is everything. Even the three legged dog hobbling in the parking lot—an obvious moment of Loach symbolism that generally resonates—inspires a bit of a yawn here.
Cast: Mark Womack, John Bishop, Andrea Lowe
Director: Ken Loach
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty
Producers: Rebecca O'Brien
Genre: Political Thriller
Running Time: 110 min.
Release Date: Unset