Five Minutes of Heaven
The BBC-produced Five Minutes of Heaven is a drama in two parts. The first is historical, portraying an actual murder from 1975 in conflict-ridden Northern Ireland. The second part, which is the bulk of the film, jumps forward 33 years and gives a fictional account of what happens to two men still affected by that murder.
The 1975 sequence drops viewers into the midst of "the Troubles," the late 20th-century period of violence in and around Northern Ireland between Protestant unionists—wanting closer ties with Great Britain—and Catholic Irish nationalists. Five Minutes doesn't dwell on the religious aspect of this conflict. Still, the casting of the leads is symbolic, even if incidentally: James Nesbitt, a Protestant, plays a Catholic, and Liam Neeson, a Catholic, plays a Protestant.
After an opening montage of Troubles-related news footage, we step into the home of teenager Alistair Little. The camera roams through ordinary domesticity before finding Little upstairs. He might as well be getting ready for school, his turntable spinning as he gets dressed and leans toward the mirror to worry over a pimple.
But the blemish is soon well hidden, when Little pulls on a ski mask that evening to kill. The victim is a local Catholic, Jim Griffin. It's Little's first hit job as a recruit of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), which is at war with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). It's a moment of triumph for Little—for the time being.
Also at the scene of the crime is Jim's younger brother Joe, just a boy at the time. He happens to have a clear view of his brother Jim as he is shot, and it's a grisly sight. Little almost leaves without even noticing Joe, but when he does, their eyes lock—Joe cowering and Little cold.
Now fast forward to the present day, which is when Five Minutes departs from the real-life stories of Joe and Little. Both characters (Nesbitt as Joe, Neeson as Little) are being chauffeured to a reunion they both fear. A TV documentary program has arranged for them to meet for the first time since that night in 1975—on camera. The program purportedly wants to know: "truth and reconciliation—is it possible?"
As soon as Joe arrives at the set, however, it's clear that the program is less interested in "truth and reconciliation"than it is in the potential for a Hallmark moment. He's clearly agitated, making more than one trip to the smoking balcony. One crew member, Vika (Anamaria Marinca), gives Joe a sympathetic ear during the pre-filming preparations, and she suspects that reconciliation is the last thing on Joe's mind. But even she doesn't know that he's packing a knife—a ticket to what he calls his "five minutes of heaven."
One of Joe and Vika's conversations gives a glimpse into the conflicted nature of resentment. Vika mentions that she visited Little once to help make arrangements for the documentary. Joe explodes with nervous curiosity, peppering her with questions about Little's home, his family (or lack thereof), and Little himself. He needs to know more about the man who turned his life upside down. Yet the more he hears, the more human Little becomes to him—how, according to Vika, Little's home is "cold," "empty" and "not a happy place," but how he seemed a "nice man" who was worried for Joe with respect to this reunion. None of this is what Joe wants to hear.