Five Minutes of Heaven


Five Minutes of Heaven

Critics Consensus

Oliver Hirschbiegel's dramatic take on "The Troubles" is an actor's showcase -- and Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt are more than up to the challenge.



Total Count: 44


Audience Score

User Ratings: 21,566
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Movie Info

The idea of reconciliation between two men from opposite sides of a life-and-death struggle is perhaps impossible or even incredibly naïve. Five Minutes of Heaven, a film that tracks the lives of two men from the same town but different sides of the Irish political divide, is unlike any other on this subject. One man, Alistair, is a killer; the other, Joe, is the brother of the man he killed. One feels he dare not ask for forgiveness; the other feels incapable of giving it. And so the scene is set in this masterfully conceived drama, written by Guy Hibbert (Omagh) and perfectly directed by German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel. The leads are Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, and they are both superb. But the film's careful construction is what transforms this from predictable to transcendent. This isn't a work of expiation or guilt; neither does it seek a simplistically dramatic finale. It is, like its subject, the portrait of a process; and the hatred and trauma that are its foundation are such that their genesis took years. Five Minutes of Heaven is replete with an almost-exquisite sensitivity and quest for understanding. It is perhaps impossible to erase the past, but we are better off for encountering it with the kind of passion and insight emanating from a true work of art.

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Critic Reviews for Five Minutes of Heaven

All Critics (44) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (33) | Rotten (11)

Audience Reviews for Five Minutes of Heaven

  • May 04, 2015
    Pretty solid. Not the best movie but still a pretty interesting look at the chaotic existence between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Still though, I would've liked to see more of the conflict in general, as opposed to just focusing on these two men. Still though, pretty interesting.
    Stephen S Super Reviewer
  • Jul 05, 2014
    An intensely dramatic and visceral thriller with a terrific script, masterful direction and powerhouse performances with it's two leads. James Nesbitt and Liam Nesson are superb. Neeson carries the pain and acceptance of his characters actions. Nesbitt is a revelation, one of his finest and most riveting performances. A true tour de force. It feels as it was written for the stage and unfolds nicely with tension and surprise. A breathlessly original piece of work.
    Al S Super Reviewer
  • Aug 17, 2013
    This film's title sounds like that naughty game that teenagers play, "Seven Minutes in Heaven", but man, you have no idea, because these kids are so naughty that their killing each other, which should come as no surprise, seeing as how just about everyone was killing jut about everyone during the "Troubles" era of Ireland. Man, first it's "Downfall", a film about the brutal fall of Nazi Germany, and now it's a film about Ireland's "Troubles" era, so it would appear as though Oliver Hirschbiegel is into films about social disorder. Well, this film is a joint British and Irish project, so I reckon the two cultures have a more comfortable relationship at this point, unless, of course, the Brits are only attached to this project because they somehow figured out a way to oppress it. The joke is morbid, I know, though it's not that likely that any potential Irish readers know or care enough about this film to read this article, unless, of course, this is one of those many cases where the Irish are the only ones paying attention to their own product, while the rest of the world is left hardly knowing anything about this film, even though it stars a name as big as Liam Neeson. I don't know, maybe this film needed even more stars, because it's not like it was going to get butts in seats based on the fact that it stars that kid who stars in that show "Borgia"... probably because "Borgia" didn't hit the air until about two years after this film was unveiled. Oh, hey, Mark Davison did end up getting a starring role in a TV show, so apparently this film is getting some kind of attention, unless, of course, Davison got the "Borgia" gig because he changed his name to Mark Ryder, which is so awesome that I'd be willing to make a film just so I could get him to star in it (Well, Oliver Hirschbiegel is a recurring director of "Borgia", so is probably pulled some strings, but I digress). Well, this film probably didn't hurt Davis-I mean, Ryder's career too much, because what handful of people who did see it liked it, much like myself, even though I'm spotting some "troubles" outside of periods of social disorder of Ireland in this film. I won't go so far as to say that there are genuinely unique areas in this film, but there are some refreshing beats to this story concept, which, of course, makes it all the more unfortunate that the final product is rather formulaic on the whole, hitting many of the beats that you might expect from a revenge drama of this nature, until it finally hits a predictable path, down which it kind of drags. Considering the length of the film, the last thing that you might expect plotting to do is drag out, but really, while this film certainly doesn't have a whole lot of team to drag out, it has some areas of excess fat within material and filler that are pretty hard to miss, leading to repetition, if not aimlessness, maybe even unevenness. Hearing that this film initially covers the childhood of its leads before jumping thirty-three years into the future, I was expecting one seriously jarring time jump, and really, while the jump arrives quickly enough to not feel too jarring, the film still takes longer than it should to get to that point, resulting in an unevenness that is arguably the peak of the problematic results of the dragging, but just one of many problems spawned from limp plotting, which is still not as detrimental to engagement value as areas in storytelling that are anything but draggy. At just about an hour-and-a-half, this film is seriously short, meaning that it has neither as much time as it probably should have to really flesh out the depths of its dramatic and character range, nor all that many heavy areas to its potential, which is limited by a minimalism in subject matter that the final product hardly works on compensating for, yet still has time to limp along, or at least seem to. The film is short, yet draggy, and you'd be hard pressed to ignore that, because a problem that is as big as any in this film is atmospheric coldness, spawned from a steady thoughtfulness that worked generally well in something like Oliver Hirschbiegel's superior "Downfall", and sometimes proves to be genuinely effective here, yet must just kind of blands things up, sometimes to the point of just downright dulling things down. The atmospheric dry spells emphasize shortcomings about as much as they emphasize the subtle depth of this drama, and were the film tighter, yet more fleshed out, it perhaps could have genuinely rewarded, as its strengths are that considerable, but when it's all said and done, the final product has a tendency to waste time it doesn't have a whole lot of, leaving it to slowly, but surely, creep its way short of rewarding. Still, the film keeps you going, being a mess of too much dragging, too much tightening and too much drying, but one that offers much to endear, even attract on an aesthetic level. Cinematographer Ruairi O'Brien's efforts have flat areas and mostly only subtle touches of beauty, yet those subtle touches end up going quite the distance, boasting a certain trademark sparseness in lighting which is tasteful in a way that is both striking, if not rather gorgeous, and supplementary to the grit of this harsh drama. The visual style ends up being a pretty key aspect in the reinforcement of this film's impact, at least when it is well-celebrated, and for this, credit is not only due to O'Brien's tastes, but director Oliver Hirschbiegel's usage of O'Brien's tastes, which isn't to say that highlights in Hirschbiegel's direction ends there. Much of the film is defined by its thoughtful storytelling, and like I said, the steadiness that Hirschbiegel drives this film with doesn't always work, but when it does, more than bland, the chill to the atmosphere is all but piercing, breathing life into a subtle dramatic intensity, certainly not to the point of milking the film for all its worth, but decidedly to the point of doing a reasonable bit of justice to a story that deserves to be well-told. Sure, storytelling is formulaic, and sure, the story concept itself has its share of thin areas, as reflected by a near-startlingly brief length in the final product, but on the whole, it's reasonably promising, with worthy themes dealing with the emotional struggles that arrive in the aftermath of troubled times, as well as other moderately weight aspects that are often done justice by aforementioned directorial highlights, as well as highlights in writing. Guy Hibbert does only so much to soak up the full depths of a thin, but worthy story concept, but really, his script is one of the relatively strongest aspects of the film, boasting sharp dialogue, - if you can hear it through all of the thickly accent Irish ramblings - as well as characterization that is, of course, a bit undercooked, but has enough thoughtfulness to it for you to get an adequate understanding of the human depths which drive this drama, and are perhaps most brought to life by the performances. Okay, perhaps I should be more specific with my compliments toward the acting, because even though Paula McFetridge will occasionally pop in to deliver on some heavy dramatic punch, the real forces behind this film are our leads, both of whom deliver on charisma and potent emotional range that work on two separate, but equally effective levels, with a particularly powerful James Nesbitt capturing the intensity of a man scarred by the death of his brother at the hands of a man he has the opportunity to exact vengeance on, while Liam Neeson captures the anguish of a man who is guilty for taking the life of someone before the eyes of an innocent, and who may meet his ironic demise at the hands of the very innocent he scarred. When the leads deliver, they really pump up the film, much like the moments in which direction and writing really deliver, so when the film picks up, it goes quite a way, and while these pick-ups aren't frequent enough for underwhelmingness to be kept at bay, they keep you going, no matter how much you may end up wishing for more. When the minutes are up, the final product is left to collapse into underwhelmingness under the overwhelming weight of conventional, draggy - when not seriously undercooked - and blandly atmospherically dry storytelling, which emphasize the great deal of natural shortcomings that really do in reward value, whose glimpses - anchored by effective cinematography, potent highlights in direction, clever and tasteful writing, and strong performances by James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson - are enough for "Five Minutes of Heaven" to stand as a decent and sometimes drama, just one that I wish was more consistent with its kick. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Feb 20, 2011
    This is the first movie I'm reviewing as a dvd review! Released back in 2009, Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt star in this interesting little film "Five Minutes of Heaven". Set in Ireland starting in the 1970's the film depicts the struggles between Irish-Protestant Allistar Little and Catholic Joe Griffin. When Joe is 11 years old, he witnesses Little shoot and murder his 19-year-old brother.. 30 years later a t.v. studio arranges for Griffin to have a televised discussion with his brother's killer, who has since been released from prison and regrets his terrible crime. This film is not a religious movie; its more of a look at society and social conflict. Neeson is great as always playing a man who regrets his past; and Nesbitt does a somewhat superior job as the little brother who never got his revenge. The film's final act is tremendous and unsuspectedly filled me with suspense as I watched these two finally meet. Not your normal movie; the pacing and filming style may ward off some people (you know, the people that like potty humor and explosions in all their movies?) but for the rest of us, this is a great little indie flick. It has no rating, but the MPAA would've definitely given it an "R" rating due to violence (probably the most realistic I've ever seen) and for the language. Oh and if you think Irish accents are funny (I think they're awesome) you better get used to them because this is a film about Irish people. If you got some time, check it out.
    Joshua H Super Reviewer

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