Peaky Blinders (2013) British Post-WWI Gangster Saga

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Sometimes you just have to stretch definitions. I’ve included other movies and TV series which were not exactly “war films” but dealt with the aftermath of war or a post-war era, and that’s why I think it’s fair to include Peaky Blinders. That and because it is fantastic. I really loved it and have to thank my friend Novroz for repeatedly writing about it. Besides it just proves a point. These days a lot of the best visual story telling isn’t shown in cinemas but on TV. And did I mention Nick Cave, Tom Waits and the White Stripes? I’ll come to that later.

Set in Birmingham in 1920, Peaky Blinders tells the story of a family of gangsters. They work pretty much mafia-style. They intimidate people, extort money against protection, fix races, use violence. Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson) is the oldest brother, Thomas (Cillian Murphy) the second, Jimmy is next and little Fin who is barely 5 years old is the youngest. There is also a sister, Ada, who’s in love with the communist Freddie Thorne. We never hear what happened to the mother, and the father, a thieving, whoring bastard, appears much later in the series. The only parent figure who is around constantly is aunt Polly (Helen McCrory). People assume that Arthur being the oldest is in charge but he’s far too dumb for that. The real boss of the Peaky Blinders is Thomas, assisted by aunt Polly. Thomas is the one with the business ideas, ready to strike, cold and calculating, and never shying away from violence. But he’s also loyal and courageous. Polly can be as cold and calculating as Thomas but she’s also diplomatic and keeps the family together on a more emotional level. Whenever there is conflict between the one or the other, she will reconcile them.

The world the Peaky Blinders live in is rough. It’s a world of poverty, delinquency, alcoholism and prostitution. Most of the money of the Shelby’s comes from bookmaking, contraband trade and robberies. The whole tragic story is set in motion when they steal a truckload of guns by mistake at the beginning of the series.

Winston Churchill sends for an Irish inspector who is an expert in the fight against the IRA. Churchill suspects that the guns are either in the hands of the IRA or the Communists. Both would be equally bad. The inspector is a self-righteous man, of those movie characters one really loves to hate – especially since he’s played by Sam Neill.

Thomas is intelligent and troubled. Like most of the men in the series he served in France and the trenches have changed him. He’s a broken man, who uses opium to fight his demons and distances himself from any feeling. Nightmares and visions of France haunt him like they haunt many others.

Music is very important for this series. The sound track is a mix of songs and original score by Nick Cave, the White Stripes and Tom Waits. Some sequences, notably those showing Thomas on his own or the “battle scenes”  are composed like stylish, gritty music video.

A gang like the Peaky Blinders is bound to have enemies and there are a lot of bloody confrontations with other gangs, bookmakers and the police. The power struggle between the inspector and Thomas makes is very suspenseful.

WWI is present all through this series. Many of the loyalties, the friendships and aversions in the series have a source in whether or not characters have served and whether or not they served together. The war left its mark on the society and on the people. The good and the bad in Thomas comes to a large extent from the war. He knows what courage under fire means. He’s been decorated twice. But he also knows that the war bruises and breaks you and leaves scars all over your body and your soul.

I’m not going to say  much more just this – watch it. I really loved Peaky Blinders and will watch it again. Before ending I should say that the series is a bit of a one man show. It wouldn’t have been as outstanding without Cillian Murphy‘s stellar performance, on the other hand it would be unfair not to mention that all the other actors are really good too.

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The Hunt For Red October (1990) A Cold War Submarine Thriller

There are two things that I do not like at all. Spy stories and Cold War stories. Although this isn’t a spy story, it is decidedly a Cold War Thriller. I know that many people like this movie and I am really sorry to say that I found it so boring, that watching it until the end was really, really hard. Plus Sean Connery. I am not too fond of him and I really hate Sam Neill. Still, I can see how one could like it but it was definitely not my cup of tea and I will never ever watch it again.

The Hunt for Red October is based on a novel by Tom Clancy. The basic plot line is the decision of the best Russian sub commander, Cpt Ramius (Sean Connery), to defect with his submarine the Red October (yes, a subtle allusion to the October Revolution and, yes again, the movie is full of such subtleties). The Red October is one huge submarine. The biggest submarine in the world. Additionally it is equipped with a silent jet water propulsion system which enables the sub to evade sonar detection.

Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), a sub expert for the CIA, has detected the system and he will be the advisor during this “Cold War goes Speed 3” enthrallment (sorry, I can’t help being sarcastic but I will try to pull myself together from now on). He thinks from the beginning that Ramius might not plan to attack the US as everybody fears but that he might want to defect with a group of his fellow officers.

Things get nasty and complicated when the whole Russian fleet starts to hunt the Red October. The Commander of the Russian fleet is played by Stellan Skarsgrad who is always great to watch even though this is just a very small role.

Tensions are high all through the movie, the chase is action-packed, the acting probably not bad if you like the actors.  But, as said, I am not into Cold War movies. And the language bit was very annoying. First the Russian crew talks Russian – believe it or not – and then they switch to English which doesn’t heighten realism but feels like a parody.

The IMDb rate is 7.6/10. Mine would be overall 1.5/5. Slick, glossy and VERY boring.