Movie Review: Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008)

War. There are countless reasons for them to be waged and I don’t pretend to know a damn thing about any of them. What I do I understand, however, is along with war comes great sacrifice and loss. Fifty Dead Men Walking is a film set in Belfast during the late 80’s that works to capture the sacrifice of two men (one more so than the other) during the bloody fight between the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and the occupying British Army.

It is based on the true accounts of Martin McGartland, a young Irish street hustler who eventually finds his way into the trusted ranks of the PIRA and ultimately into the hands of the British, as an informant. Taking on the complex and conflicted role of Martin is Jim Sturgess, in what I consider to arguably be his best role to date. Initially, Martin supports his countrymen and their fight — he resents the fact he can’t get a decent job (pawning stolen clothing door-to-door, hardly qualifies) and he lashes out, every chance he gets, against the armed British presence on every street corner. After getting hauled in during one of his excursions, Martin catches the eye of handlers in the British Intelligence Anti-Terrorism division. Turns out, with a pregnant girlfriend and the lure of easy cash and a car, Martin is easily swayed to their side of the fight.

Not to be outdone by his co-star, Sir Ben Kingsley turns in a powerful performance himself as Fergus, the man responsible for turning Martin into a mole. Fergus is equally complex; he’s a man caught straddling the line between his country’s wishes to use up and throw away his informant (even if that means causing his death), and his becoming a surrogate father to Martin and not seeing him solely as just another pawn in the war.

Tying the unswaying performances together in Fifty Dead Men Walking is a tough and smartly written screenplay adaptation by Nicholas Davies, Martin McGartland and Kari Skogland. Left on the floor is any possible political agendas; the purpose of the film isn’t to decide which side was right or wrong, it was meant to capture the desperation of the people stuck in this unwinnable situation — and here it succeeds. Skogland, who also directed, keeps the pace moving briskly, slowing down momentarily, now and again, to reflect on the internal struggle Martin finds himself fighting; fighting which causes strife in his relationships with his girlfriend Lara (Nathalie Press) and best friend Sean (Kevin Zegar). More impressively, Skogland doesn’t get bogged down trying to toss in any superfluous violence. Even though there are some very telling fight scenes and a few involving torture, they’re shown as a necessary evil to the development of the story.

Detracting from the telling of the story, however, is the deep Irish/British/Scottish accents which makes following some of the dialogue difficult, if not impossible to do. Some of this is caused by my American ears which, I’ll admit, aren’t in tune with the dialect, but some of it is definitely caused by the overpowering soundtrack (which unto itself wasn’t half bad, although out of place many times) — there were several scenes that literally require lip reading ability to know what is being said. There were also times I found myself confused as to what importance certain characters played. Everyone gets identified when they’re initially introduced (mostly PIRA members), but with so many of them coming in and out of the picture, it was easy to lose track of them.

These things are, at most, minor annoyances when compared to the subject matter. Fifty Dead Men Walking is a very compelling story that provides a very human aspect to the conflict (referred to as “the troubles” by the Irish), and is made stronger by some very good performances by its leads. As is the case with most good movies, it too raises some deep seated questions, most notably — would you be willing to sacrifice your friends, family and life to save 50 people you didn’t know?

Critical Movie Critic Rating:
4 Star Rating: Good


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The Critical Movie Critics

I'm an old, miserable fart set in his ways. Some of the things that bring a smile to my face are (in no particular order): Teenage back acne, the rain on my face, long walks on the beach and redneck women named Francis. Oh yeah, I like to watch and criticize movies.

'Movie Review: Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008)' have 12 comments

  1. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 9, 2008 @ 7:53 am new illuminati

    ‘Reason’ and ‘war’ do not belong in the same sentence. War is the result of blind misdirected passions – and the implacable logical illogic of invested interests.

    The so-called British Isles are an excellent case in point. The real question to consider is always ‘who profits’? And yet the profits are not always merely monetary. Some have longer perspectives than most, and are possessed of agendas that transcend the transient.

  2. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 10, 2008 @ 5:43 am Marius

    Sounds great
    Added on my list with movies to watch

  3. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 18, 2008 @ 6:49 pm me

    3 words. dirty fucking tout

  4. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 24, 2008 @ 3:20 pm Fantasy Girl

    Sturgess gives an powerful, moving performance, while taking on the almost impossible task of making McGartland’s IRA mole a sympathetic character (see above comment, i.e. dirty f*cking tout).

    Alas, one man’s traitor is another man’s hero.

    And for someone who knows next to nothing about the Troubles, I’m glad to finally see it presented in humanizing fashion, for only when we see our enemies as human beings can we hope to avoid senseless conflict and hatred.

    AND I’ve noticed a number of reviewers commenting on their difficulty understanding the dialog. I hope Kari Skogland considers subtitling some areas, but I the thickness of the Belfast accent are a testament to the actor’s commitment to authenticity. Jim and Kevin both spoke exclusively in a Belfast accent during the entire filming in Northern Ireland, fooling many locals and other actors into beliveing they were truly Irishmen.

    You can visit my Youtube station to see FDMW videos and the official trailer. :o) FG / Diane

  5. The Critical Movie Critics

    November 5, 2008 @ 5:06 pm Fred

    Sound like a good movie, I have never hear about this confrontations PIRA and the British Army, I will have to read about this before I go into the movie because most of the time reality based movies are modified for a better script

  6. The Critical Movie Critics

    November 6, 2008 @ 1:04 pm Jack Grantham

    Martin Ingram Aka Ian Hurst is a liar.Soldier of Fortune.Mercenary.Only interested in making money.He is a con-man who will sell his story to anyone who will pay for it.

    The person who calls himself Martin ingram but is in fact ex Int Corps SSgt Ian Hurst (known as rocky) is a liar of the highest order. His book STEAKNIFE is almost complete fiction, as are his assertions that Martin McGUINNESS was an agent of the state. He is dementedly lying completely about his past service in FRU. He only ever served in sleepy backwaters of the Province and never came face to face with anyone except low level eyes and ears agents. He never ran STEAKNIFE or even met him. In short, his book is a complete fabrication based on god knows what. He endangers the lives of serving and former soldiers as well as civilians with his ridiculous fairy tales. Hopefully he will appear in court at some of the current inquiries and investigations so he can be shown to be the liar he really is.
    This is from

  7. The Critical Movie Critics

    January 23, 2009 @ 8:13 pm ciaran

    “save 50 people” Martin McGartland probably killed or helped arrest many others. Hes a traitor, filth, and makes me ashamed that he was a Catholic Irish man such as myself.

  8. The Critical Movie Critics

    April 11, 2009 @ 9:26 pm Tom

    I watched it yesterday and think its been the best film I’ve seen at a mainstream cinema this year so far. I grew up in the present era when Ireland’s problems were not so much in the media, so to see this film, which is a true story, brings to life a little bit of history that I am glad is such now.

    It is a good film but I would hate any of the fallout that could come of it, which could trivialise the film itself with arguments, as is the feeling today about the whole ‘Irish thing’. Even here in the comments its all about authenticity or lack of it which is exactly what turns people off anything Irish.

  9. The Critical Movie Critics

    April 19, 2009 @ 6:30 pm Br3l

    I dnt care what any yas say the brits are scum. I ain’t seen the movie and probly won’t cause it’s gona be bull shot English properganda bet it won’t show scenes were they poured boiling tar over 4 year old girls heads. Any Brits out tere wanna explain bloody Sunday to the world ? Now rats a realistic movie it’s a true story about how the British scum open fired on a group of peaceful protesters marching for their rights. Dnt know exact figures but the shot about 30 irish people killed about 22 includding a priest waveing a white flag and 6 people under 18. They scum

  10. The Critical Movie Critics

    April 21, 2009 @ 3:08 pm Fred

    Get over it Marty took on the IRA a Won. The film is lies. Marty has stated mant times that the film is as near to the truth as Earth is to Pluto. Get your self a copy of Fifty Dead Men Walking to read the ‘whole’ truth. Did take any notice of the IRA supporting scum on here. They are not fit to do up Marty’s shoe laces. If the IRA could not beat him what makes these armchair supports think they can?

  11. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 19, 2009 @ 7:54 am Sean

    I knew Marty back in those days. Back then it was anything for a fiver and things don’t change much over the years. He wasn’t the only one to “Take On” the provos. It’s just that he has made his money spinning his fairy storeys. I know one man from East Belfast who is not walking about because of Hero Marty. I’ll give him one thing, it seem as if he could fall into a big of shit and come out smelling of roses.
    While some would say he sacrificed his family to save 50 men, others would say he sacrificed his family for a few quid in his pocket. I wonder how much of Marty’s money goes to his wife and kid now.
    I went to Canada myself for a new life but ended up getting arrested thrown in jail then kicked out of the country. Marty wouldn’t even be allowed off the plane!

    • The Critical Movie Critics

      June 25, 2015 @ 9:01 pm martiningramjack grantham

      Ian Hurst aka Martin Ingram and Peter Keeley aka Kevin Fulton now stand exposed as the fakes, charlatans and Securocrat lickspittles they truly are
      One of the many gems coming from the forensic research carried out by the Smithwick team shows that Peter Keeley is still linked to MI5 which has “taken control” of his case. Keeley’s close relationship with the Star Chamber throws light in turn on Ian Hurst’s charmed life as a practiced liar and deceiver. In 2006, this spook duo issued a book together (“Unsung Hero” – with Keeley as author and Hurst writing the introduction), where Keeley is the eponymous Unsung Hero. To speak bluntly, this book is disgusting and is the final nail in the coffin for these two British establishment lackeys.

      For in January this year the Belfast High Court ordered that Peter Keeley must pay damages to the family of Eoin Morley. “Unsung Hero” gives a ghoulish description of Keeley’s supposed role in the murder of Eoin Morley. In the foreword to the book Ian Hurst acknowledges that Keeley is a “murderer”. Is there any barrel that these two have not scraped? Now rumour has it that Hurst will not only face an inquiry as to exactly what he knew about Keeley’s murderous role as an agent but also on what basis the two of them fed stories to News International’s Dublin and Belfast offices.

      Anyone who cares to look, even casually, at the narrative of false security stories that were fed to journalists and media, that were either so gullible or so blinded by anti Sinn Féin animus that they failed to scrutinise what was on offer from these two, will quickly see the symbiotic relationship between Hurst and Keeley in the Stakeknife, Martin McGuinness and “Rogue Garda” black ops manoeuvres unwittingly revealed by the Smithwick report.

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