Premonition; The Wind That Shakes the Barley
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Anyone who's seen the awful trailer for Premonition is bound to have premonitions about the movie. After seeing the movie, I have postmonitions about Sandra Bullock (how could she have done it?) and her hapless filmmakers (how could they have done it so badly?), plus one admonition: See this feeble fiasco only if you're in the mood for Groundhog Day without the laughs.
Premonition tells the story of a loving wife and mother, Linda Hanson, who comes unstrung because she's living her days out of order. Why is that, you may ask. Well, she just is. "I wake up every morning to find my husband has died again," Linda tells a shrink. That's not quite right, though. She finds that her husband has died when she wakes up every other morning, or maybe it's every third morning. And we come unstrung watching her frantic efforts to figure out what's going on by plotting significant events in her life – i.e. "JIM DIES" -- on a big hand-drawn calendar.
There's something mysterious here, but it isn't the plot device. The mystery is that Sandra Bullock's time-out-of-joint thriller arrives in theaters nine months to the day after her time-out-of-whack romance The Lake House, which was just as dumb and confusing, except that the problem was lovers struggling with a bi-temporal relationship. (She was living in 2006 and Keanu Reeves was in 2004.). What is it with Sandra Bullock and time? Does she keep yearning in the here and now for the now and then? Why would an actress who can act as well as she did in Crash and Infamous and fall for two dramatic equivalents of those droopy Dali clocks?
Another mystery is an encounter between Linda, at her most distraught, and a local priest, who delivers a bizarre lecture on precognition – "history is full of unexplained phenomena," he says solemnly – and who tells her to fight for what's worth fighting for. Good advice, if a bit tautological, but the writing and acting is of such time-warped earnestness as to make the scene transcendently dreadful. The history of Hollywood is full of unexplained folly.
The strongest character in The Wind That Shakes the Barley is Damien, a young physician turned guerilla fighter after being radicalized by the brutality of British troops in the thatched-roof Ireland of 1920. (He's played, quietly but charismatically, by Cillian Murphy.) The strongest sensibility in this powerful film is that of the director, Ken Loach, who needs no radicalization at this point – he's made a long and honorable career of naturalist working-class drama.
Some of Ken Loach's earlier features have been easier to admire than to enjoy. This one won the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and really vibrates with dramatic energy. It follows the men of a Republican brigade as they become seasoned combatants, and so the film, like a small-scale Irish version of The Battle of Algiers, offers yet another telling account of guerilla warfare taking its toll on uniformed soldiers. The director and his writer, Paul Laverty, are unsparing in their portrait of the Black and Tans, who inflict a reign of random terror on Ireland's towns and villages. Yet The Wind That Shakes the Barley depicts just as graphically the violence that the Republicans visit on Britain's forces. The most painful spectacle of all is Irish revolutionists fighting Irish turncoats.