Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, Apr 28, 2010.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Feb 12, 1998
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    Five Minutes of Heaven (Blu-ray)

    Studio: MPI Home Video
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 89 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Codec: AVC
    Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1; English PCM 2.0
    Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
    MSRP: $29.98
    Disc Format: 1 25GB
    Package: Keepcase
    Theatrical Release Date: Aug. 21, 2009
    Blu-ray Release Date: Apr. 27, 2010


    What happens when two men come face to face thirty-three years after one of them destroyed the other’s life with a politically motivated murder? Is it reconciliation, revenge or reality TV? A model of efficient writing and taut direction, Five Minutes of Heaven transforms this charged material into an effective thriller. The film benefits from two powerhouse lead performances by Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt (well-known in England for Murphy’s Law but probably best known here for Danny Boyle’s Millions and Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday).

    The Feature:

    In 1975, during the “troubles”, a Protestant teenager in Lurgan, Ireland named Alistair Little joined the local chapter of the Ulster Volunteer Force or “UVF”. With three friends, Alistair undertook his first major assignment: killing a Catholic man named Jim Griffen at the behest of his UVF superiors. The operation was planned and conducted both elaborately and amateurishly, but it succeeded. Alistair shot his target repeatedly in the man’s living room, but there was an unexpected witness – a little boy, Joe Griffen, the man’s brother. The boy and the teenager locked eyes, and Alistair fled.

    In 2008, Alistair (Neeson) and Joe (Nesbitt) are grown men, and they’re being chauffeured to their first encounter since Alistair killed Joe’s brother. The meeting has been arranged by a TV program that engineers encounters between criminals and their victims for the sake of reconciliation (and, of course, ratings). As each man approaches the meeting, we get glimpses of the life he’s lived in the intervening three decades.

    Alistair served twelve years in prison for his UVF activities. He emerged a changed man who travels the world running workshops and therapy sessions for people whose lives have been wrecked by violence in such conflict-riven locales as Bosnia and South Africa. His work has brought him a certain degree of notoriety, but no peace. He lives alone in a spare apartment in Belfast, and it appears to Vika (Anamaria Marinca), the runner for the TV show who meets each man in advance of their encounter, that Alistair is “broken”.

    Alistair’s fame infuriates Joe, for whom life as he knew it ended with Alistair’s bullets. His brother Jim died, his father suffered a fatal heart attack within the year, and his mother blamed Joe for not saving Jim (though there was nothing he could have done). Joe has spent his entire adult life in the shadow of Alistair’s crime, and as he rides toward their meeting, he rants about the man who killed his brother, both in his head and out loud, alternately ordering the driver to turn around and continue onward, then making him pull over to the side of the road so that he can get out for some air and a smoke.

    When Joe arrives at the palatial locale chosen by the TV crew for their meeting, he makes all the right noises, but the lavish surroundings are irrelevant. Having finally made it to the site of the meeting, Joe begins to focus, and when he encounters Vika and discovers that she’s actually met Alistair, he grills her about him. It’s to Vika that he reveals his real reason for agreeing to see Alistair – he’s there to kill him. That won’t be so good for you, Vika tells him. Yes it will, Joe replies. It’ll be five minutes of heaven.

    To reveal any more would be to spoil the viewing experience. (The trailer does so, and if it ever shows up on anything you’re watching, by all means skip it.) Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who made the Oscar-nominated Downfall, uses the clueless sincerity of the TV people to ratchet up the tension as the time for the meeting between Joe and Alistair approaches. When Michael (Richard Dormer) – the head guy and presumably the host – prattles on at Joe about the wonderful things they want to accomplish through this program, it’s like a moment from Hitchcock. You want to yell at the screen: “You idiot! Don’t you see that you’re about to stage another murder?” But no, Michael carries on reassuring Joe that they want to do everything to make him comfortable during this difficult experience. Then, of course, he thinks nothing of asking Joe to repeat a long, tense walk toward the room where Alistair waits because a technical glitch has spoiled the shot.

    Nesbitt has played many stolid, even-tempered characters, but here he gets to play a man who is always on the verge of flying apart. He does it so effectively that it’s often unnerving. From moment to moment, you’re never quite sure what Joe will do. (Neither is Joe.) Neeson’s Alistair is harder to pin down. At first he seems to be exactly what Joe accuses him of: a slick operator who has parlayed a criminal past into a profitable career. But then you watch Alistair tape opening remarks for the program, and it slowly becomes apparent that there’s something else at work. In simple, straightforward language, Alistair describes how, years ago, he joined the UVF and killed a man – and did it easily, without remorse, basking in the approval of his comrades when the deed was done. He would have blown up a busload of people if they’d asked him. The year being 2008, both the script and Alistair don’t hesitate to draw the obvious parallel to Islamic terrorism.

    What’s both extraordinary and somewhat frightening about Alistair’s speech (and Neeson’s delivery is perfect) is that it offers no apology or excuse. It’s as if something is missing. This is just a prologue for something else that has to happen. What that is won’t be clear until the last shot of the film.


    According to IMDb, Five Minutes of Heaven was shot on 16mm film, which is not uncommon for BBC productions. That possibility had occurred to me while watching the film, given the nature of the image. The 1975 sequences have a rough texture consistent with their function as memory; it also helps integrate them with the archival news footage. The grain and detail are fully preserved by the Blu-ray transfer, as are the vivid and sometimes unnatural colors.

    The 2008 sequences are smoother and more naturally colored, and detail and black levels are very good. While 35mm might have provided a prettier picture, prettiness is not the point here. The image captures, and the Blu-ray faithfully conveys, the diverse surroundings in which Joe and Alistair fitfully, each in his own way, steel themselves to approach each other. These surroundings range from the highways traversed by their limousines to the inappropriately ornate mansion where the TV crew has set up for filming to . . . other places. The image on the Blu-ray does the essential job of establishing each of these locales, along with registering the minutest change in expression from each of the characters, especially Joe and Alistair.


    I would describe the soundtrack of Five Minutes of Heaven as “subjective”, because it uses extensive voiceover by both Joe and Alistair, some of which is indeed spoken out loud, but off camera, and some of which is genuine internal monologue. (With some of it you can’t be sure.) There are moments when the sound of the environment goes quiet or is muffled, reflecting a character’s state of emotional shock. Occasional scenes make use of environmental ambiance (e.g., scenes riding in a car), and in those the surrounds are used, but sparingly. The main components of the track are dialogue and the unobtrusive score by David Holmes (whose credits include Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films). An occasional sound effect will take on unusual prominence, such as the ticking clock that opens the film. All of these elements are effectively presented by the DTS lossless track. The disc also has a PCM 2.0 track, but I did not listen to it.

    Special Features:

    Behind the Scenes (HD) (4:39). This short promotional piece was made for the IFC Channel and contains major spoilers. Interviewees include Neeson, Hirschbiegel and screenwriter Guy Hibbert. A much longer documentary could be made, because Jim Griffen and Alistair Little are real people, and the portion of the film set in 1975 actually happened. The events set in 2008 are fictional, and the film was made with the approval of Griffen and Little, who, in real life, never met.

    Trailers. The film’s trailer is available, in hi-def, as a separate extra. At startup the disc plays the following trailers, all of them in standard definition: Flame & Citron (enhanced); The Escapist (enhanced); Paris (enhanced); The Trial Begins (1.85:1, centered in 4:3 frame); Frontier of Dawn (enhanced); Mammoth (enhanced). These can be skipped with the chapter forward button.

    Note that merely because MPI has included a film’s trailer on a Blu-ray disc does not mean that the film will be issued in that format. Mammoth, for example, is exclusive to DVD.

    In Conclusion:

    A capsule description of Five Minutes of Heaven may suggest that it’s a “message” movie, and indirectly it is. But the message isn’t about Ireland, and it isn’t even about terrorism. If anything, it’s about the aftermath of violence, seen from a great distance, and the film approaches its subject in such a smart and efficient manner that you never feel like it’s preaching. The film won 2009 awards at Sundance for both writing and directing, and with good reason. The people who made the film never forgot that the best way to get a point across is to keep your audience entertained.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    SVS SB12-Plus sub
  2. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

    Jan 22, 1999
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    Real Name:
    Aaron Silverman
    I first heard of this when I saw the trailer on the Flame & Citron disc. It looked very interesting. Thanks for the review!
  3. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer

    Aug 20, 2000
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    I rented this based on your review. I had been looking at renting it for some time, but I hadn't seen any theatrical release for the film and thought it was a straight-to-video release. Since straight-to-video generally signals a film as a dog, I don't normally rent them. However, when I read in your review that this film was directed by the same fellow who did "Downfall" I picked it up. It was a pretty good film. The actor playing Joe Griffin did a good job portraying a fellow who was seesawing between normality and flying apart emotionally.

    Of note, was the brief moments where Joe Griffin flashes back to memories of his mother. The actress in those brief moments did a pretty good job, because those points were the points where I wanted to be able to reach in, grab her and give her a good shake.

    The only point where I felt the film slipped a bit was the point (as noted by you) where Neeson's character brings up Islamic terrorism. At that point, I did feel like the film was slipping toward "preachiness". Everything that goes on in the film is about how damaging the act is to the participants on a personal level. The injection of references to Islamic terrorism felt misplaced to me. That is just about my only quibble with the film; although, the ending felt somewhat unsatisfying. Still, it was a pretty good film that I probably would never have rented if I hadn't read your review.
  4. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Feb 12, 1998
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    Glad you enjoyed it.

    This is changing rapidly, as more and more specialty films skip theatrical release, or get a very limited release, in favor of "on demand" or some other form of downloadable distribution, followed by DVD and (maybe) Blu-ray. Both IFC Films, which released Five Minutes of Heaven, and Magnolia have been leaders in this area.

    This is the first Blu-ray screener we've been able to get from MPI, which handles the home video releases for IFC Films.

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