Bobby Sands: 66 Days
With the lone exception of Steve McQueen’s Hunger, cinema’s treatment of the Northern Ireland’s Troubles has been, shall we say, unfulfilling. This is clearly a personal bias, but trying to figure out my disinterest in films about the Irish Republican Army and its prisoners has often been chalked up to a disconnect (read: ignorance) of the historical context of the era. Also, for the most part, the filmmakers behind these films, ranging from Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father and The Boxer), Neil Jordan (Michael Collins) and Yann Demange (’71) have just never appealed to my sensibilities. My eyes glaze over quickly when confronting these films.
Add Brendan Byrne’s thorough new documentary, Bobby Sands: 66 Days to the list. The film is fine. It’s a valuable resource for those looking to educate themselves on the finer details of the sociopolitical climate of Northern Ireland during the 60s through the 80s. Oddly enough, Bobby Sands’ presence is peripheral to the larger historical context of the documentary, his hunger strike and subsequent death treated as a symbolic gesture meant to spur international awareness of the I.R.A resistance. The gesture complicates the film, as the broader ethical and philosophical questions a viewer may have regarding the I.R.A’s practices feel glossed over.
I admire the film’s exhaustive and clinical approach but it’s realized blandly, lacking in the way of formal grace. It’s a conventional, steak and potatoes kind of film, one that begins to weigh heavily as it plods to the end of its runtime. Byrne’s approach lends itself to good journalism, but there’s an absent kinetic quality that informs viewers rather than captivates them; in essence, the work of an intelligent historian without much cinematic cred.