One of the worst disasters in all of history, the Great Famine in Ireland is believed to have caused upwards of 100,000 deaths. Black ‘47 is a new revenge film set during the Great Famine, named after the worst year of that period.
The movie follows an Irish Ranger who has been fighting for the British Army abroad. He returns home to reunite with his family, only to find his home in ruins because of the Famine and its impact on Irish society. He then sets out to seek vengeance from the British who caused the situation.
The film’s story was far too thin for it to be effective. Even though the runtime is only an hour and forty minutes, it felt much longer, with short bits of action spread between vast stretches of nothingness. There are a lot of shots of traveling which aren’t necessary. Early on, the movie establishes the consequences of the war and Famine with a particularly brutal scene with some profoundly disturbing imagery. Continuing to push this point was excessive.
The character development was also lackluster. There is the apparent sympathy for the protagonist because of the horrible situation in which he found himself, but that is it. Unlike most other successful revenge films, there was no scene allowing the audience to understand the protagonist’s personality and get to like him as a character. Instead, the audience is forced to form sympathy with him secondhand, through the actions committed against his family.
The execution of the film is slightly rough, too. Although the cinematography is decent as a whole, the shots are very darkly lit, making it almost impossible to see what is happening during scenes which are set at night. The subtitling is also distracting. Part of the movie is in the Irish language, and while that would normally be fine, the subtitles are in a lousy font without capitalization or punctuation. This was particularly frustrating.
That being said, visuals were occasionally strong. In the more well-lit scenes, there are a few images that are truly haunting. Additionally, some of the action scenes are very strong, especially towards the climax of the film. These scenes are shot well enough to keep the movie as a whole from dropping into mundanity.
The actors all do a good job in their roles, too. The protagonist is played by James Frecheville. He delivers a powerful performance with a lot of emotion portrayed through very few words. Freddie Fox is excellent as the antagonist, doing an extraordinary rendition of the dialogue. Barry Keoghan has a small role, too, and while he could have been used more, he has a few beautiful scenes. This film is the Hugo Weaving show, though, as Weaving lights up the screen, stealing almost every scene he is in. It is great to see him doing a significant role again, as he is a tremendously talented actor.
Overall, Black ‘47 is too dark, both visually and thematically. However, it is saved by a solid ensemble and some decent action sequences in the third act. Hardcore fans of historical fiction may enjoy this movie, but otherwise, it isn’t essential viewing.