Director: Ken Loach, release date: 18 March
In 2010 Kathryn Bigelow's appalling The Hurt Locker won the Oscar for both best film and best director (by some grim irony she was the first woman to win the award). Not only did it win the Oscar but, in a dramatic display of the way that Hollywood film culture has colonised Britain, it also took the Bafta for best film and best director. While the film was widely congratulated for showing the Iraq War "as it really is", it was, in fact, just another celebration of US militarism. And now, as if from another world altogether, comes the new Ken Loach-Paul Laverty film, Route Irish.
Loach is, without any serious doubt, the most important film director working in Britain today and has been in this position for many years now. He has a career going back to the 1960s that includes such powerful films as Cathy Come Home (1966), Kes (1969), Days of Hope (1975), Land and Freedom (1995), The Navigators (2001), Looking for Eric (2009) and the tremendous The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006). Now we have Route Irish, written by Laverty, who has scripted Loach's most recent films and is apparently working on a number of future projects.
The film is very much a tragedy. It tells the story of a deeply flawed ex-SAS soldier, Fergus (Mark Womack). He is earning big money working in the private security business. But after the death of his closest friend, Frankie (John Bishop), in Iraq he begins asking questions: about Frankie's death, the private security business and the Iraq War itself. The film takes its title from the route from the Green Zone to Baghdad airport, the ambush zone where Frankie dies.
The emergence of the private security business (best described with the old-fashioned word "mercenaries" - although this is not a word the industry likes) is one of the most important developments of the last decade. The creation of private companies that maintain their own armies will be seen as something of tremendous historic significance, involving immense danger for civil liberties and freedom, not just in those countries unfortunate enough to be occupied by the West, but in the West itself. Of course, this development was wholeheartedly embraced by New Labour.
Loach provides a powerfully tragic view of this development from the inside as Fergus sets about discovering what really happened to his friend and in the process discovers what has really been done to Iraq. The result is a tremendous film that successfully combines a radical political stance with the exploration of one man's tragedy. Personally, I shall be very surprised if I see another film this year that approaches Route Irish. Don't miss it.