It was called The Troubles, and it took place mainly in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 1997. More than 3500 people were killed during this conflict. It was not necessarily a religious conflict; it was more a political issue. The Loyalists were mostly Protestants and considered themselves to be British citizens who wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. The Irish Nationalists were mostly Catholics and considered themselves to be Irish who preferred to leave the United Kingdom to become a united Ireland. The fight was between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the south and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in the north.
The story is loosely based upon two men who had faced this situation in 1975 but never met each other, which is not true of the fictional piece which is presented here.
Map of Ireland - Wikimedia
The film opens with an introduction to Alistair Little in 1975 when he was 17 years old. He and three other young men, belonging to the Ulster Volunteer Force in Northern Ireland, were given the task of killing Jim Griffin, a Catholic member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the town of Lurgan, Ireland. Alistair was eager for the applause he would receive from his neighbors when he walked into the neighborhood bar after the deed was accomplished. This was the only honor available to a young man at that time.
The four boys stole a car and went to Jim Griffin’s house at 37 Hill Street. It was Alistair’s call and he accomplished his mission by putting three bullets into the head of Jim Griffin through the window of his home. Jim’s younger brother Joe was standing outside the house, watching Alistair commit the deed. Alistair was wearing a mask, looked at young Joe and left. The boys set the stolen car on fire which was part of their plan. Then they went to a dance in town, which was also part of their plan. Alistair was arrested and sent to prison for 12 years. Young Joe Griffin’s mother blamed him for not doing anything to stop the killing; he was just an 11-year-old boy, frightened at what was happening. He lived with her ranting and his guilt for 33 years. Joe’s father died of a heart attack, his brother died of an overdose, and his mother passed away also. Joe was married and had two young girls.
A Program of Reconciliation
Flash forward 33 years. Alistair Little and Joe Griffin have been contacted by a television studio planning a story surrounding a Program of Reconciliation which would bring together two hostile parties for a reunion and a settlement of differences. The two men agreed to come together. The viewers meet each of the men as they are being chauffeured in separate cars to a plush resort for the purpose of their auspicious meeting which will be televised live.
Liam Neeson - Wikimedia
Alistair’s Reserved Persona
Alistair is reserved, downcast, like a broken man, as he is driven to the meeting. He has spent the past several years speaking to groups about anger management and forgiveness. He has been haunted since the killing, telling himself “I feel guilty if I laugh, guilty if I drink, guilty if I forget,” He looks forward to his meeting with Joe Griffin to reach a point of reconciliation. He realizes that Joe probably harbors angry feelings towards him.
Joe Griffin, on the other hand, is driving to the meeting with a knife on his person. It is not about reconciliation for him; it is about revenge. He has suffered all of those years with guilt and anger against the man who killed his brother Jim. He believes that killing Alistair Little will bring him “five minutes of heaven” and is determined to do it.
Alistair Speaks His Part
At the television studio that has been set up, the Program people have Alistair speak about his situation before Joe arrives on the scene. His message was that young men should not be allowed to get to the point where they join the group (UVF). Once they are in, they will kill anyone because it is the right thing to do. They need their own people to forbid them to join.
Joe Backs Out
The camera men wanted Joe to be televised walking down the stairs from his room to where Alistair was waiting for him. They had to do a retake which bothered Joe tremendously. On reaching the door, Joe insisted that he would not meet Alistair if the cameras were there. So the entire deal was off. He left the building.
James Nesbitt - Wikimedia
Alistair Seeks Out Joe
Sometime later, Alistair took the train to Lurgan. He entered a store where the owner knew him. Alistair asked the man to give a note to Joe Griffin. The note asked Joe to call Alistair at a certain phone number. He wanted to meet with Joe. He received no answer so he went to 37 Hill Street, looking for Joe. A bloody fight ensued. It was impossible to predict who would win. They beat each other up unmercifully. At a point where it seemed they were exhausted and the fight was over, they started in again and ended up with both of them crashing through a second-story window. It seemed that they were both dead, but slowly Alistair got up and then Joe got up. They sat together and talked.
Alistair’s Talk with Joe
Alistair tried to tell Joe what his mindset was when he was 17 years old. His dreams of glory in the UVF. His remorse for so many years. He told Joe to tell his daughters that he had killed Alistair. He begged Joe to stop his guilt and anger over the past and to live his life for his two little girls. Alistair said he was leaving for Belfast and would not come back.
Joe stayed a while and smoked a cigarette, his hands and body shaking terribly. He went back home and sat watching his two beautiful little girls. In the next scene, Joe was attending a self-help group, and tried to tell the group sitting there about his problem. He broke down and sobbed. He made a phone call to Alistair Little saying “Alistair, we’re finished,” and he hung up.
This film affected me deeply. We all live with some remorse about the past. We have all been hurt by others with no chance for letting it go. This look into the hearts of two people filled with sorrow and regret is a good lesson that we need to let go of the past in order to live a kinder, more productive life.