Does it say much for a film's integrity if it largely by-passes cinemas and goes almost exclusively to Sky Movies for distribution? I'm not here to answer such a question today, I'm just here to review said film. Despite such a prestigious name, Ken Loach is someone I wouldn't ever claim to be an expert on outside of doing a film with Eric Cantona in the slightly light hearted working class drama, Looking for Eric and his beautifully filmed and, the quite tragic, story surrounding the early days of the Irish Republican Army in The Wind That Shakes The Barley - yes I apologise to my fellow film buffs, I've yet to watch his most infamous piece, Kes.
His latest film, Route Irish tells the story of former Iraq war veteran/hired security muscle, Fergus (Mark Womack) as he soughs to discover the truth to the death of his best friend Frankie (John Bishop...yes that's right the comedian) who seemingly died through an incident of terrible circumstance. As the story unravels, unsurprisingly, all is not what it seems as Fergus stumbles into a corporate conspiracy which leads to the greyish protagonist going on a bitter quest for vengeance.
Aside from the standard amount of grit such affairs contain these days, Route Irish isn't really something that we haven't seen before. It felt more like a high budget TV drama similar in many ways to the 2009 BBC drama, Occupation, starring James Nesbitt, than a smart and challenging piece of independent cinema. Nevertheless, I did enjoy Mark Womack's haunting leading performance, he painted quite a lonely, desperate figure from the opening moments of the film right through to its painful conclusion.
While John Bishop's presence looms over the story beautifully through a series of flashbacks and archive videos and surprisingly in those moments there's even a hint of a serious, perfectly creditable, actor. Far removed from the comical antics seen in a platter of panel shows in the past couple of years. Andrea Lowe meanwhile was quite a disorientating soul in the role of Bishop's widow, Rachel.
Generally though the film lacked a decent amount of pace to be a truly engaging experience. During the first hour I found myself largely confused and if I'm being brutally honest, quite bored. Just felt it was taking nearly two hours to tell a story which could have been told in half of that.
If you're going to make a genuinely brilliant conspiracy thriller at least keep the audience guessing until the final moments and climax with a terrific twist. With Route Irish however you could generally guess the outcome and within the first 20 minutes even hazard a good guess to the identity of the real guilty parties involved.
The intensely driven performances aside, Route Irish is a generally cumbersome and, at times, regrettably, a distinctly average piece of film-making from one of Britain's true heroes of independent cinema. Not terrible by any means, but overall it lacks the imagination and bravery shown by Loach in his previous two films. You can do better Ken, you must do better.
Route Irish is showing in selected cinemas throughout the UK now. Alternatively satellite owners can access it on through the movies section of Sky Box Office.