It feels churlish to sell Kari Skogland’s Fifty Dead Men Walking by describing it as a real life The Departed set in Ireland but that gives a fairly clear idea of what the film is going for.
Fifty Dead Men Walking is based on the memoirs and actual life events of Martin McGartland (played excellently by Jim Sturgess): an informant for the British police who was tasked with spying inconspicuously on the IRA while rising through the ranks during the 1980s.
It is a fascinating story that lends itself naturally to the suspense-thriller genre as Martin McGartland fears being outed as a snitch at every moment in the film. He is forced to pay witness to acts of extreme violence (sometimes adopting a more active role, too) while trying to keep his police handler, Fergis (Ben Kingsley), happy as well as managing his personal life at home.
A film of such high stakes should be unbearably tense but unfortunately Fifty Dead Men Walking, save for the last half-hour, is a somewhat pedestrian affair. The subject matter never feels as if it is given quite the necessary seriousness that it perhaps warrants – for instance, a soundtrack that would be better suited to a more lighthearted heist movie plays in the background in almost every scene.
The tone never feels appropriately gritty enough until the aforementioned denouement. It is at this point where McGartland’s juggling act begins to catch up with him and the result is a wickedly tense, if unsophisticated, thriller perhaps a little too long in the making. (6)