The Truth Commissioner : A Film Review

  
Director Declan Recks, UK/Ireland, 2014/16, 1hr 39mins.Cast. Roger Allam as Henry Stanfield, THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER.

Co-starring Barry Ward (Jimmy’s Hall), Sean McGinley (The General), Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones), Ian McElihinney (Game of Thrones) and Tom Goodman Hill (The Imitation Game) loosely a political thriller.

Precarious beginnings

It is fairly obvious from early on in this film there is a narrative of dog-eared quasi-logic and poor presentation of an avenue for to confront, in my mind, truth, being the only route to healing and avoiding repetition of the past by subsequent generations.  Victims are and will have relatives of years turmoil and desire for reality.

A prologue of sorts introduces in flashback the later central character of Danny, real name Michael Madden who plays it well given there is as a central character an opportunity to work the character which he does with rare emotion and whose revisiting of a period twelve or more years earlier is an orchestrated sham witness tale in which he willingly implicates himself to a murder or as the story would, now adjusted have him accidentally be the perpetrator of the victims demise. We see the arrival to begin with of the foretold event prior to the victims death and then left back in a domestic scene of the apparent present from which the narrative develops. The Independant quotes (in the form of Ciaran Carson, Poet of these parts) As Montaigne has it, “The truth of these days is not that which really is, but what every man persuades another to believe.” Or persuades himself to believe, he might have added.   Thank God for Jesus and maybe Mother Theresa Mr Carson.  In a recent letter roundabouts the same subject and before I saw the film therefore I wrote the following.. – ,as the disappeared.

It is a bit like the talking heads of TV who discuss interminably about what they don’t know and seek to prove what they must ever doubt. With acknowledgements to a founder father of the medium. MM. Voices forced (sic) into a false recall opportunity.

Remember..

So it is a case of remembering and sharing the truth not concealing it and dying with the healing.

Plot Introduction

Introducing The Truth Commissioner. A stilted arrival at the International airport with a police attendant driver and a well contoured, sweet feminine minder whose fragrance is ensuring a modicum of audacious diversion might appear. Never anything approximating reality, the small body of Commission, not arriving in the private part of the airport overnight, delivers itself to an expectant media lined un at the foot of Stormonts steps. The press are engaged in deliver of the day’s news which is the display and presentation of the loose collared Commisioner already marked as a maverick Independent though slow thinking unwittingly naive head of the story.

Maybe the career diplomat with a faint taproot of law, was selected for his narrowness of thought. I haven’t read the book and any backstory relies on characterisation. The wooden patrol of minor players and sidekicks along with one or two persons who look as malevolent as Bisto gravy and as turgid.

Several elements of implausible conceited averse plot are delivered which is no fault of the director but it is a factor of abridged, simplified and back to implausible again, very estranged characterisation. From a Detective at the Commission called to reveal his version of the past after an “State your name and your connection to the events. ” some absent minded dialogue editor forgot to include the answer to the second part of the question. Implausibly the Detective instead of relying on absence of memory, a familiar trait, responds as a addled teenager and regurgitates when confronted by a ‘witness’ to the affairs sings high notes akin to a canary in a coal mine. I appears he is about to evaporate in his own declarations. Hardly and scarcely believable without the draining absence of dialogue overlooked in editorial. It is addressed differently, correctly later.

What about the film?

As a visual encounter of Belfast it is somewhat light, or nearly bereft of lively atmosphere and the vibe.  It is a narrow cushion of middle class bolt holes and slick ‘namad’ apartments and liquidation across the wet paved renewal and no banking scandal or memorilastion of a province that once had about four of its own indigenous banks.  There too it is necessary to recall this is Eames/Bradley failed (not a glove laid on the Government at Westminister) report days circa 2007? and we haven’t even embarked on the corrupt background of property development, mis-managed local authorities and ministries asleep at the wheel or adjacent to their bedside table with the brown envelope before their ‘Forgive our sins’ prayer load.  God is always busy.  So the setting is false and not indicative and perhaps due to any sub-text in the book not delivering a true picture of Belfast.  It is very unreal except through familiarity, meaning you recognise places not people.

Character By-pass

The scenes are somewhat moderated and tension free zones. Whereas the South African Truth Commission dealt with several languages, those at the forefront of interpreting and thus becoming the person, the victim and truth teller, were in need of psychological trauma assistance. This ‘local’ story is set around one sole story and a noodling acquaintance with files and reams and digitised computer ready copied paperwork volumes. The last you’ll hear of those so-called confidential files about as light a summary as to convince an audience -‘You know there might be something in this. We should have one of those.‘ Without evaluating the colossal criminality of the state and collaborators of all hue and political background, military or pseudo academic muses. Alone Brian McElhenny and A dislikeable, that comes across no problem, Conleth Hill are solid and deal their hand best and with what they can do with a frivolous uninspiring, unrealistic script, which has only the book to enliven it or create believable narrative.  It was annoying at worst and secondary entertainment with lots of nice photography and ‘sure isn’t that ..’ But no wow.

It’s actually regressive and far from helpful to have this story told in such a doctored way as to seem ‘frightfully’ realistic to the outsider. Perhaps it sees itself as a drama for UK consumption, and unfettered guide to be watched in Brussels or Paris or New York as tales of salutary wisdom. The central ‘truth’ provider in the book apparently has a backstory to New York as an illegal and dilemmas on that side of the Atlantic. He does not so much as pick up a phone introducing us to his other half and is therefore ensnared in the roll call on ill-acted home and away scenes. The Commisioners daughter is defensive at first and does an about turn with our puzzlement of what’s changed.  Not the directors fault, just an ill thought concept complete with token husband who said little in one of Fred’s finest pads.

In Derry’s Guildhall which is externally Belfast’s Custom House, the attendance at the hearings is during introduction and during the inquisition itself without animation. It is a very docile gathering with a few sobs and nods for authenticity thrown in. Collective gullibility is de riguer or the stock of sometimes pedestrian meaningless or minimal exploratory directive, the main problem being the dialogue lifted from the book and its narrow path.

There is little tonality, dimension or felicity (if you thought the troubles were grim, this makes the peace process and peacetime no garden party and moods are apparent – it would be improbable to suggest this weight happens to be in the book?) of temperament on exhibit among the many characters. A French lady has a complicit entreė without much to play with and it is left to lurid photos as a source of reference to illicit relationship, as is the minder come secretary and her friendship of improbable laxity. Far to many of these one dimensioned characters are laid out as the book has limited their scope it would seem leaving it an impoverished story of incredibilty.
It is fairly obvious from early on in this film there is a narrative of dog-eared quasi-logic and poor presentation of an avenue for truth it is inconceivable, except in the absurdity of a fickle and complacent public whose voice takes presence over the real quest for truth in the passages of mind vaults, government record and hastily reformatted evidence coming forward.  

The basic premis of the movie is hamstrung by its central values avenue to truth. There are clearly no winners in this as the story tells if that is its central message then it is valid. It is not valid as a solution which i think, and the director put his backing behind a Truth Commission though when a post preview discussion took place it was not a solid recommendation, more half hearted, what else is there? There is a route which it is the responsibility of Government to confront. Truth being the only route to healing and avoiding repetition of the past by subsequent generations.

Victims are and will have relatives of years turmoil and desire for reality.

  
 sham witness tale in which he willingly implicates himself to a murder or as the story would, now adjusted have him accidentally be the perpetrator of the victims demise. We see the arrival to begin with of the foretold event prior to the victims death and then left back in a domestic scene of the apparent present from which the narrative develops.

From a Detective at the Commission called to reveal his version of the past after an “State your name and your connection to the events. ” some absent minded dialogue editor forgot to include the answer to the second part of the question. Implausibly the Detective instead of relying on absence of memory, a familiar trait, responds as a addled teenager and regurgitates when confronted by a ‘witness’ to the affairs sings high notes akin to a canary in a coal mine. I appears he is about to evaporate in his own declarations. Hardly and scarcely believable without the draining absence of dialogue overlooked in editorial. It is addressed differently, correctly later.
The scenes are somewhat moderated and tension free zones. Whereas the Truth Commission dealt with several languages, those at the forefront of interpreting and thus becoming the person, the victim and truth teller, were in need of psychological trauma assistance. This ‘local’ story is set around one sole story and a noodling acquaintance with files and reams and digitised computer ready copied paperwork volumes. The last you’ll hear of those so-called confidential files about as light a summary as to convince an audience -‘You know there might be something in this. We should have one of those.’ Without evaluating the colossal criminality of the state and collaborators of all hue and political background, military or pseudo academic muses.
  
It’s actually regressive and far from helpful to have this story told in such a doctored way as to seem ‘frightfully’ realistic to the outsider. Perhaps it sees itself as a drama for UK consumption, and unfettered guide to be watched in Brussels or Paris or New York as tales of salutary wisdom. The central ‘truth’ provider in the book apparently has a backstory to New York as an illegal and dilemmas on that side of the Atlantic. He does not so much as pick up a phone introducing us to his other half and is therefore ensnared in the roll call on ill-acted home and away scenes. The Commisioners daughter is defensive at first and does an about turn with our puzzlement of what’s changed.  
In Derry’s Guildhall which is externally Belfast’s Custom House, the attendance at the hearings is during introduction and during the inquisition itself without animation. It is a very docile gathering with a few sobs and nods for authenticity thrown in. Collective gullibility is de riguer or the stock of sometimes pedestrian meaningless or minimal exploratory directive, the main problem being the dialogue lifted from the book and its narrow path.
There is little tonality, dimension or felicity of temperament on exhibit among the many characters. A French lady has a complicit entreė without much to play with and it is left to lurid photos as a source of reference to illicit relationship, as is the minder come secretary and her friendship of improbable laxity. Far to many of these one dimensioned characters are laid out as the book has limited their scope it would seem leaving it an impoverished story of incredibilty.

Conclusion ##2 

It’s rare that a film with little realistic fabric to work with makes it out in Ireland’s film industry but this is a decent attempt at making the best of a bad narrow minded story based on a book which never caught the imagination in the province except it having dealt with a topical current.  All the undercurrents are superficially represented as the film shifts from the despair of the central character to the hurt of a victims family to the crass interpretation and manipulation of history and the present by representatives.  Add in a well oiled flawed Commossioner, twisted plot scenarios around his daughter and his excursions to the under root, not of the troubles but the motorway over and docks where the smell of incoming drugs overpowers.

It is a cinematic journey but unfortunately a film worth a bypass.
John Graham

2 February 2016

Belfast
‘Premiered’ QFT Belfast on 1 February 2016 and shown widely and at that venue from a later date(s) to be advised and at Irish Film Festivals of note.

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