Having returned home to Liverpool, private military contractor Fergus (Womack) is inconsolable after his lifelong best friend and fellow contractor Frankie (Bishop) is killed in Iraq. Given the mysterious circumstances surrounding Frankie’s death, however, Fergus becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth and bringing those responsible to justice. Despite being assured by those involved that everything was legit, the more Fergus digs the more he’s convinced of a cover-up…
Following the unusually whimsical (though utterly terrific) Looking For Eric, social realist filmmaker Ken Loach is back to recognisably serious and gritty territory with Route Irish. Named after the road linking Baghdad’s infamous Green Zone with its airport (apparently the most dangerous road on the planet), Loach and frequent screenwriter Paul Laverty vent their anger on the privatisation of war (and the according lack of accountability) in another compelling collaboration. Those familiar with Loach might find the handful of shootouts surprising (yes, you read that correctly, shootouts in a Ken Loach film), but the acclaimed director instils the whole picture with his usual naturalism and cinéma vérité style, regardless.
While undoubtedly political, though, as our protagonist is on a mission to uncover the truth Route Irish is also something of a conspiracy thriller (broadly speaking), with corruption and hidden agendas as the order of the day. There are a few standout scenes dotted throughout (see the waterboarding torture) and the support is every inch as naturalistic as you’d expect from a Ken Loach movie. Once, that is, you get over the fact that – yes – that is comedian John Bishop playing Frankie in flashbacks (don’t worry, he’s actually great). Still, the movie belongs to Mark Womack, who essays a powerful portrayal of a man being strangled from within by simmering rage, inconsolable grief and impotent anger, even if his Fergus isn’t always as sympathetic as you’d like.
Though not top-level Ken Loach, Route Irish is another compelling work from one of the best directors working today.