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. ...