Pros: Farrell, Lee, Dura, Reilly; Deasy’s cinematography
Cons: second half feels slow
Colin Farrell (born in Dublin in 1976) has been very good in a succession of movies few people have seen, including “Phone Booth” (2002), “A Home at the End of the World” (2004, the performance that made me a fan of his), “Ask the Dust” (2006), “Triage” (2009), “Ondine” (2009), (IMO, a minority one) “Alexander (2004, and Seven Psychopaths,” (2012). (I have not seen “Cassandra’s Dream”, and don’t remember much about his performance as Captain John Smith in Terrence Malick’s wretched “New World”; thought he was fine in Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” (2002) and excellent in “In Bruges” (2008), two movies seen by more viewers than these others.)
“Triage,” also released as “Shell Shock” has some problems, though not in the acting of its lead (Farrell) or others. As Elena, the wife of Mark Walsh, the war photojournalist Farrell plays, I think Paz Vega is pretty good. As her octogenarian Spanish psychiatrist grandfather Christopher Lee is outstanding, as is Bronco Dura (No Man’s Land) as a Kurdish field hospital physician (the one doing the triage). Jamie Saves does not make much impression as Mark’s buddy, David, who wants to get home to his very pregnant wife. Though she has, I think, less screen time than David, Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes) delivers a profound and nuanced performance.
Irish cinematographer Samus Deasy (The General) contributes different looks for Dublin and for Kurdistan (shot in Spain, btw). What I am dubious about must be attributed to Bosnian writer-director Danis Tanovic (No Man’s Land), who adapted Scott Anderson’s novel set in 1988 (just before Saddam Hussein’s biggest chemical attack (gassing) of his nominal subjects Iraqi Kurds) March 16, 1988, part of the genocidal policy of Saddam Hussein that was exculpated by the Reagan administration (de facto supporting Hussein against Iran).
The first third (or so) of the movie shows a gung-ho Mark and a very reluctant David accompanying Kurdish rebels against Saddam Hussein’s misrule. With no consideration for the severely wounded, Mark in particular presses in to take gritty photographs, including Dr. Talzani (Djuric) shooting in the head those whom he judges cannot be saved. His triage places blue tags on the hopeless cases, and yellow on the potentially salvageable.
Very familiar with this triage, the wounded Mark is relieved to be yellow-tagged. Back in Dublin, he improves physically and gets worse psychologically (PTSD) despite the love of his wife.
Her question and Diane’s is “What happened to David?” who left the battlefield first. Elena brings in the grandfather whom she considers a Fascist who salvaged various underlings of Francisco Franco (second-hand crimes against humanity). Dr. Morales has a major speech explaining himself and goes to work in breaking through (which means breaking down) Mark. Everyone (including the viewer) eventually learn the tragic answer to that question (by way of a particular concern of Mark’s that Dr. Morales picks up on).
Mark’s agent Amy (Juliet Stevenson) thinks the field hospital/physician execution photos are more interesting and marketable than the combat ones, and that part of the movie seems more powerful to me than the eventual revelation (well played and well photographed as it is). Tanovic had plenty of experience of the war on civilians living in Sarajevo, and is perhaps better at gritty, bitter war movies than at rehabilitation ones? Or is the editing to blame for the slow feel of the second half (plus) of the movie? Or that the payoff doesn’t pay enough? Would it have been better not to hide from the audience what happened to David? Maybe, maybe not.
The movie did not have a US theatrical release (went straight to video). The DVD has multiple interviews, which are also drawn on for a good making-of feature that runs 20 minutes. The DVD presentation lifts my 3.5 judgment of the movie itself. It is a shame that the excellent acting was not seen by American audiences. Though not a “popcorn movie,” surely there are enough stimuli for adrenaline in it!
©2018, Stephen O. Murray