Dir: John Furse. UK. 2003. 96 mins
Exceptional performances from Ian Hart and Linus Roache lend a compelling authority to the true story of hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. Both actors get under the skin of two very different characters, capturing their individual personalities but also illuminating the common humanity that allowed them to endure their ordeal as long-term captives in the Lebanon. Based largely on Keenan's bestselling memoir An Evil Cradling, Blind Flight marks an impressive feature debut for writer-director John Furse. His spare, unsentimental account of the men's captivity and friendship is tightly focused, well-balanced and always absorbing.
Positive reviews should ensure a healthy theatrical life and good long-term prospects for a modest, sensitively handled project that is released in the UK on April 9 after festival exposure at London and the Celtic Film Festival in Scotland. Extensive media coverage of what befell Keenan and McCarthy might make some British audiences feel that they know this story well enough already. It was dramatised for television in David Wheatley's docudrama Hostages (1993) with Ciaran Hinds and Colin Firth.
Blind Flight has had considerable involvement from Keenan and McCarthy and one of its virtues is the way in which it encourages you to think again. It works by reducing the story to the basics of two men enduring four years of shared imprisonment in which they managed to remain sane and resilient. Just like the hostages themselves, the viewer has little sense of events in the wider world or indeed a grasp of the passage of time. Claustrophobic and intense, the film rarely ventures outside the various buildings in which the men were held.
The story begins in 1985. Keenan (Hart) is working as a teacher in Beirut. One day he is bundled into a car and abducted. Moulded by his experiences of the troubles in Northern Ireland, he takes a defiant stance towards his captors revealing an unwillingness to co-operate with them or be seen as a victim.
Some time later he is relocated and finds himself sharing a room with fellow captive John McCarthy (Roache in a role originally announced for Joseph Fiennes), a gentlemanly English journalist who has a more pragmatic view of the situation. Over months of captivity in roach-infested cells, the two strangers develop a deep bond. The angry Keenan finds some sense of balance in McCarthy's calm manner. McCarthy's political naivety is informed by Keenan's worldly wisdom. Political attitudes are tested, personal details are traded like precious commodities. Through physical decline and emotional hardship, each one gives the other the gift of seeing beyond the despair of a particular moment.
Blind Flight ultimately emerges as a deeply moving portrait of friendship and solidarity in the face of appalling deprivations. The film also takes a sympathetic approach to their Arab jailers who are sometimes friendly and sometimes sadistic in a confused desire to assert their dominance of the situation.
A production that makes the most of its modest resources, Blind Flight reveals a mature judgement in the handling of material, refusing to sensationalise or wallow in melodrama but staying true to the dramatic truth of the events. The physical commitment and emotional acuity of the performances are further testimony to Furse's assured touch and the overall merit of the film.
Prod co: Parallax
Int'l sales: Moviehouse
Uk dist: Optimum Releasing
Exec prods: John Furse, Luke Randolph
Prod: Sally Hibbin
Co-prods: David Collins, Eddie Dick
Scr: John Furse, Brian Keenan
Cine: Ian Wilson
Prod des: Andrew Sanders
Ed: Kristina Hetherington
Music: Stephen McKeon
Main cast: Ian Hart, Linus Roache, Bassem Breish, Ziad Lahoud, Mohammed Chamas