Ken Loach’s “Route Irish” may suffer from flat performances and an overwrought, polemically-motivated plot, but there’s no denying its basic power as targeted polemic. The movie follows Fergus (Mark Womack), a disgruntled Iraq war veteran whose best pal Frankie dies overseas before the beginning of the movie. Grappling with the loss and seeking to figure out the details behind it, Fergus embarks on a one-man vigilante mission to bring down the people responsible. The set-up turns particularly dour when corporate suits enter the picture as the main targets, and Frankie virtually goes postal.
His face stuck in an incessant scowl, Womack delivers a one-note expression of anger, barking out line after line in an endless stream of rage and argumentation. The movie occasionally flashes back to Iraq, where a labyrinthian series of events led to Frankie’s death, allowing for explosions and gunfire that certainly wake up the mood, if not the plot. Other critics have compared “Route Irish” to “In the Valley of Elah” and “The Hurt Locker,” if for no other reason than all three movies deal with soldiers, Iraq, bombs and guilt. But at this point those props are beginning to look like the usual suspects.
Although “Route Irish” moves with fits of inspiration, the story never really takes off. Fergus’s madness reaches a fever pitch in the movie’s final third, particularly with an extended waterboarding sequence that demonstrates Loach’s ability to create genuine tension with one image and a little camera movement. It tells you something when the best scenes of the movie are not the ones involving bullets.
The lasting effect of “Route Irish” comes not from its anti-war perspective per se, but rather the craftsmanship with which Loach expresses it. If only he had chosen better material. Throughout the movie, several people attempt to mollify Fergus by telling him that Frankie was simply in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” a description likely applicable to the skillful 78-year-old Loach’s interest in this project.