Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Five Minutes of Heaven deals indirectly with the Troubles, the legacy of violence that engulfed Northern Ireland for three decades until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 put an official end to the discord. Though this history is vividly invoked in gritty newsreel footage in the film’s opening minutes, and plays a crucial role in the backstory of Hirschbiegel’s fraught protagonists—one Protestant, the other Catholic—the true subject of his arid, minimal social drama is not violence or politics, but the more delicate act of healing. Or rather, the possibility of rapprochement between adversaries. Instead of pitching us headlong into the past and fastening onto heroic intrigue, like the new Fifty Dead Men Walking, Hirschbiegel limns the present-day inner turmoil of two men linked by fate. One is a killer, the other his victim’s brother. It’s a gaunt two-man show, told in three acts.
Uneven but absorbing at its extremities, Five Minutes of Heaven is a personal film, not so much for German director Hirschbiegel (Downfall), but for Irish screenwriter Guy Hibbert, who devoted two years to researching the story of a victim and a perpetrator on opposite sides of the political divide. The script, based on extensive interviews with both men, dramatizes the real-life murder and then imagines what would happen if the two met to engage in a supervised dialogue. Click here to read the rest of Damon Smith's review of Five Minutes of Heaven.