Black 47 review: Revenge is the order of the day in this bleak, but battle-heavy film, a co-production of Ireland and Luxembourg, directed by Lance Daly.

Blackk 47 review by Paul Heath.

Black 47 review
Black 47 review

James Frecheville commands the screen in a ruggish performance as defecting soldier Martin Feeney who has returned to Irish homeland after fighting for the British crown in the war in Afghanistan. The year is 1847, the rural surroundings of Ireland suffering from the potato famine, something which has already claimed over a million lives. Those who have fallen victim to the blight are most of his family, his mother to the famine and his brother sentenced to death by the British occupying forces. Out of sheer desperation, the young soldier traces the people responsible for this family’s demise, tall of the way up to key pollical figures in the Irish landscape and starts a violent vendetta against allowing nothing to get in his way.

After getting wind of Feeney’s plans, the British react and call in the services of Hugo Weaving’s inspector Hannah – complete with full beard and full-on London accent – to put a stop to him. He has no choice but to take on the task due to him currently being incarcerated due to his mishandling of a former prisoner, so the ageing police officer takes to the hills of the country to set about his duty.

Black 47 review
Black 47 review

Hannah is accompanied by army upstart Pope (Freddie Fox), a young, obnoxious captain who will be overseeing the mission.  There’s also Barry Keoghan’s private Hobson, along for the journey to tend to the horses and such, as well as Stephen Rea’s alcoholic local man, present and correct to earn a quick buck due to his tremendous local knowledge.

What follows in a tight 95-minute-odd film that does more than just hold your attention throughout. Although brooding, especially during its earlier moments when its focus is upon historical accuracy rather than all-out gunfights, Black 47 has enough for each of its characters to do, with solid performances from all involved.

Particularly noted for is threatening turn as the lead protagonist is Frecheville, a kind of cross between Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant and a menacing, intimidating, bearded Christian Bale. The gifted thespian has more than enough screen time to get him noticed in a possible star-making turn.

Black 47 review
Black 47 review

Weaving also delights in a role that we perhaps may have not expected him to play, a multi-layered character with history and unlike anything he’s played before.

The one disappointment is Keoghan, the up and coming actor seen in last year’s Dunkirk and The Killing Of A Sacred Dear who, while making the most of what he is given, hasn’t been granted enough to do, and therefore his performance suffers as a result. He’s given a pivotal scene later, one which he manages to own in every way, but I would have liked to have seen more of this gifted young actor.

Another delightful positive though is Jim Broadbent’s villain of the piece Lord Kilmichael, the British acting veteran taking the opportunity of playing the bad guy and relishing it thoroughly.

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Despite all its flaw, and perhaps a further issue with tone – the film can’t quite make out what kind of movie it wants to be – and some questionable computer-generated effects, I enjoyed Black 47 tremendously.

The film is full of great performances, some brilliantly bleak cinematography by Declan Quinn, some terrific, drum-enhanced music adding to the tension from Brian Byrne, and some spot-on direction from Daly and the rest of his team.

The film feels bleak despite its probably very limited budget; both bleak, bloody, tense and taut. A welcomed surprise at this year’s Berlinale.

Black 47 review by Paul Heath, February 2018.

Black 47 is awaiting a UK release. It was reviewed at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival.

Black 47