Ken Loach’s Route Irish, contrary to what the uninformed may be led to believe, is not a sequel to Palme d’Or winning The Wind The Shakes The Barley. Instead Route Irish refers to the highly volatile iraqi road between Baghdad Airport and The Green Zone.
The film centres on Fergus, whose best friend Frankie recently lost his life on Route Irish. Fergus is immediately suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his friend’s death, and takes it upon himself to get the answers the security firm Frankie worked for have so far failed to give.
Assisting him is Frankie’s girlfriend, Rachel, who has a somewhat uneasy relationship with Fergus. This stems from a jealousy that stems from the closeness of Frankie’s and Fergus’ friendship. Rachel sums up the closeness of the two men when she says: “I was the only thing you didn’t share.” Rachel and Fergus’ reliance on one another as they come to terms with the death of the man they both loved forms the emotional heart of the film. It’s unfortunate that either because of a combination of the acting and the writing I found their relationship difficult to buy into.
This may be in large part due to the sizable amount of exposition that makes up the film’s second act. As Fergus’ investigations get him closer to the truth, too much time is spent explaining the mystery of the film, without the necessary tension or character moments one would normally expect to accompany it.
A good comparison is In the Valley of Elah, starring Tommy Lee Jones, which sees Jones investigating the suspicious death of his son who had recently returned from Iraq. Unlike Loach’s film, however, the exposition seems to synchronise a lot better within the uneasy atmosphere of the film; every new discovery being accompanied by a key character moment or thematic element.
Route Irish being a Loach film, the themes he does deal with are far-reaching and pertinent. It’s the first film that truly deals with the commercialisation of the Iraq War. The ‘bad guys’ are not some power-hungry politicians or blood-thirsty soldiers, but instead a security firm determined to make as much money as possible from conflict.
It also looks at the West’s changing relationship with torture. However, despite the fact the much-publicised torture scene is brilliantly shot and acted, the point it made seemed quite obvious and one-dimensional.
It’s unfortunate that this description succinctly sums up much of Route Irish: a little too obvious and one-dimensional. It’s a picture whose heart is undoubtedly in the right place, and its depiction of war, and the impact it has on both companies and individuals is well considered. However, the way it creates its story and characters lacks the depth of some of Loach’s other works. This works together to create a film which feels a little like a missed opportunity.