A disappointingly missed opporunity to explore recent developments in the military-industrial complex.
Privatised on Parade. Film review – Tom Jennings
Belatedly joinng the ‘Iraq-movie’ genre, veteran leftie social-realist filmmaker Ken Loach embellishes screenwriter Paul Laverty’s grimly downbeat tragedy with conspiracy and action thriller elements. Cannily singling out for attention a specific real horror of this episode of Western imperialism – the bonanza for corporate ‘security consultants’ granted legal immunity for crimes perpetrated – Route Irish traces the consequences of ‘collateral damage’ for contemporary soldiers of fortune. Two childhood friends from Liverpool first enlisted immediately from school, and after leaving the regular forces Fergus (played with tortured intensity by Mark Womack) persuaded Frankie (John Bishop) to join him guarding bigwigs for big bucks in occupied Baghdad. When Frankie is killed – supposedly being ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ along the titular ‘most dangerous road in the world’ – Fergus refuses to swallow the company line. Deploying his elite SAS training, an increasingly unhinged loose-cannon investigation uncovers atrocity, dishonesty and corruption at the heart of private security business practice.
Without pursuing the implications, the film does suggest that outsourcing military adventurism for profit not only obscures responsibility for the usual planned and incidental brutalities of war, but also renders redundant grand narratives of patriotism, duty and the greater good which otherwise preoccupy those accounting for inevitable suffering. Given the especially transparent iniquity of sacrificing humanity merely for shareholder value, Fergus’ rage and hurt conceivably parallel the experiences of others whose lives are ruined for reasons equally outside their ken. However he cannot widen horizons or envision joint projects, since his entire being is consumed by the violence which now defines him. Personal bonds and passions are themselves privatised in guilt, regret and despair, with traditional discourses no longer providing succour – surely a potent metaphor for existence in general under advanced capitalism. Yet, in itself, murderous revenge against the bosses for their treachery makes no more political sense than assassinating figureheads or ‘fragging’ commanding officers. Sure, those particular individuals won’t cause any further evil, even if others will always take their place. But is there wider resonance?
As with any spanners thrown impulsively into the workings of military-industrial complexes, the collective action or dynamics which might be prefigured, affected by or accompany such events would be paramount in judging their significance – as when American GIs in Vietnam behaved with equally extreme prejudice. Here there is no inkling of what these social dimensions might entail, and in interviews Loach seems aware that this narrative’s obsession with its protagonist’s overwhelming internal damage overdetermines dead-ends for villains and anti-hero alike. Moreover, it is precisely not those who do comfortably well out of combat – whether as honoured servicemen or mercenaries making a mint – who tend to unravel in isolated post-traumatic psychosis. Thankfully, shoehorning in simple-minded bleeding-heart liberalism – as per last year’s naff BBC drama Occupation – was shunned, but Route Irish remains just as crippled in tunnel-vision as Fergus. Whereas ‘bringing the war back home’ more ambitiously, while still respecting the deeper Iraqi tragedy, could have elaborated other characters (Frankie’s girlfriend and the Kurdish musician, for a start) and possibilities beyond being props in one man’s ultimately uninvolving self-destructive redemption.
Route Irish is available now on DVD.
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 72, No. 15, July 2011.
For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see: