Some 30 years after the January 30, 1972 Derry massacre in Northern Ireland, the Parachute Regiment are still spin-doctoring the events of that day. Though hoping to end unionist rule in Northern Ireland through non-violent means, hundreds of civil rights activists were fired upon by British soldiers who later claimed they were only responding to IRA gunfire. The day later became known as Bloody Sunday, a major cause for the cycle of violence that would plague the area for decades to come. That director Paul Greengrass’s gripping Bloody Sunday could easily pass for a documentary on the subject is a testament to the immediacy of this vérité exercise. Greengrass offers little historical context for the events of Bloody Sunday beyond a series of intertitles that close the film. Understandably, the film has courted controversy in merry England. And while Greengrass clearly sides with the Irish peacemakers, his humanism affords compassion for confused Parachute troops that may or may not have been incited to violence because of the ineffectual chain of command between the field and the British Army’s headquarters. A promising formalist, Greengrass cuts between scenes with hyperbolic fadeouts that have a way of displacing the events depicted in the film into memory. The film’s details are rich yet subtle (a local theater in Derry plays two films: The Magnificent Seven and Sunday Bloody Sunday) and the sense of dread is overwhelming. Greenway seemingly suggests that non-violent resistance is possible only if we trust in each other’s promise not to bear arms. When the people of Derry begin to throw bricks at British soldiers, there’s a sense that Bloody Sunday would not have happened had the British not doubted the human rights league’s promise to march peacefully through the town. The film’s ultra-realism echoes Michael Winterbottom’s polemical Welcome to Sarajevo except Greengrass wrings more naturalistic performances from his actors; as Protestant peacekeeper Ivan Cooper, a brilliant James Nesbitt is every bit as frazzled by constantly buzzing phone-lines as he is by the bullets that kill his countrymen.
This DVD edition of Bloody Sunday comes with two English 5.1 Dolby Digital surround tracks: a "Domestic Theatrical Version" and an "Original U.K. Theatrical Version." After flipping back and forth between the two tracks, not one sound, explosion or accent seems to vary. Putting aside any difficulties one may have with the film’s difficult accents, dialogue and fidelity, Bloody Sunday sounds as authentically real as ever. The one drawback may be in the surround department as the film’s many explosions don’t sound as expansive as they could. Ivan Strasburg’s gritty camerawork is expertly rendered on the clean anamorphic widescreen transfer, which preserves the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85.1.
On this domestic DVD edition of Bloody Sunday, two commentary tracks carry over from the UK release, one by writer/director Paul Greengrass and actor James Nesbit and another by Don Mullan, who lived through the events of Bloody Sunday and went on to write the book on which the film is based. The former track is on the monotonous side but Greengrass offers some interesting thoughts throughout, especially on the simple yet irresistible power of Catholicism that propelled and still propels people in this part of the world. Because Mullan lived the event so passionately, his track subsequently proves to be the more emotional one. Also included is a passionate collection of interview clips with the cast and crew and an all-too-brief interview between Ivan Cooper and Nesbitt, who played the man in the film.
A stirring piece of political activism, Bloody Sunday would make an excellent addition to any school library across the country.