'No Stone Unturned': Film Review | NYFF 2017

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
A thorough exploration of a subject whose significance may be lost on American viewers.

Alex Gibney's latest documentary looks at the 20-odd-year quest for justice following one of the last massacres of the Irish Troubles.

A peculiar subject for a film by the maker of big-picture, high-profile documentaries about Enron, WikiLeaks and Scientology, the 1994 slaying of six Catholics in a small town in North Ireland is a crime whose evils seem indistinguishable (for a viewer on this side of the world, at least) from countless others of its time. It came toward the end of the Irish Troubles but was in no way a culminating event; its aftermath involved layers of coverup, but that was the norm for such cases. In No Stone Unturned, Alex Gibney may want to replicate what he did so effectively in Mea Maxima Culpa, which spent an hour on a single incident in order to re-personalize a vast historical scandal. It doesn't work as well here: Though we care for those who lost loved ones, and root for them as they pursue a decades-long hunt for the killers, No Stone Unturned plays like a very well made piece of true-crime television.

On June 18, 1994, masked men burst into a very small Loughinisland pub whose patrons were watching Ireland's team compete in the World Cup. They opened fire with assault rifles, killing six and wounding five more, then sped away in a waiting car. (Gibney's reenactment suffers from an overheated musical score, which continues to be noticeably busy throughout the film.) The massacre was quickly blamed on "loyalist terrorists," and authorities pledged to bring them swiftly to justice. Things looked good: The getaway car was found, and hadn't been torched in the usual paramilitary fashion; other evidence was scattered nearby, all offering forensic possibilities. Suspects were brought in for interviews.

But after several weeks, the IRA's dramatic announcement of a ceasefire drew attention away from the case — perhaps even made pursuing it seem counterproductive to the peace process. It was only after 10 years that the families of the dead learned that the getaway car had been sent to a scrapyard by police, and that the notes from interrogations were destroyed. They could only assume that, as in so many other cases, investigators had colluded with the Protestant forces who killed their fathers and sons.

Gibney spends enough time talking about the history of conflict between Irish Catholics and Protestants that we understand the weight of that word, "collusion." Police departments often secretly took sides in the long war between Protestant and Catholic militants, letting the former go free (or helping them outright) when they could have been prosecuted. After the ceasefire, Police Ombudsmen were supposed to investigate such cases and come clean.

That didn't happen here. Gibney shows how a 2007 inquiry admitted some evidence of wrongdoing but avoided drawing conclusions. Years later, a new Ombudsman was willing to dig deeper and be more transparent about the startling lack of professionalism in the original investigations.

No Stone Unturned follows other threads as well — talking to journalists who reported on the case, mulling over documents that hide the identities of key figures, introducing anonymous leaks that seemingly point straight to the killers. But there's always a sense that the film is withholding information artificially, trying to make viewers suffer as families did when, in fact, the truth is already known. In June 2016, the new Ombudsman declared unambiguously that police colluded with the loyalists.

Still, the killers walk free. In a sequence that, however tantalizing, is tonally out of step with the rest of the film, Gibney's team sneaks up to the main suspect and watches as he goes grouchily about his daily routine. Maybe putting this sort of "Hey guys, he's right over here, in plain sight!" material on screens will shame authorities into trying to prosecute this 23-year-old crime. Here's hoping.

Production companies: Fine Point Films, Jigsaw Productions, Kew Media Group
Director-screenwriter: Alex Gibney
Producer: Trevor Birney
Executive producers: Maiken Baird, Greg Phillips, Jonathan Ford, Richard Perello, Brendan J. Byrne
Directors of photography: Stan Harlow, Ross McDonnell
Editor: Andy Grieve
Composers: Ivor Guest, Robert Logan
Venue: New York Film Festival

110 minutes

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