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Jimmy's Hall Paints a Portrait of a Significant Segment of Irish History



In telling the story of Jimmy Gralton (veteran Irish actor Barry Ward), a guy who led the Revolutionary Workers' Group in Ireland, a precursor of the Irish Communist Party, before being deported to the U.S., director Ken Loach (Riff-Raff, The Wind That Shakes the Barley) doesn't just make a political statement. The movie, which opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, draws upon historical events but is ultimately something personal as it chronicles one man's attempts to make a difference in people's lives.

The movie gets off to a slow start. When Jimmy returns to the small Irish town where he grew up, his mother immediately tells him, "It's been too long." "I've missed the land; I want a quiet life now," Jimmy says when he arrives at the local pub to announce his return home from 10 years in New York. The opening scenes consist of a series of conversations between Jimmy and his old friends. Not so compelling. But the film's pace picks up.

One day on the way home from working the fields, a group of teens encourages him to re-open the local dance hall where the young people meet to dance, study or talk. The place is in disarray so Jimmy leads an effort to restore the space. It doesn't belong to any one person — it belongs to the community, something that Jimmy makes clear in an interview with the citizens who help him bring the place back to life.

Leaders of the church take exception to the hall's reopening, but Jimmy doesn't flinch. One priest in particular targets Jimmy quite explicitly in his sermons, calling out the names of all the young people who have frequented the hall in the attempt to create some friction between them and their parents. In one case, a father brutally beats his daughter. Jimmy, for his part, doesn't feel he needs the church's stamp of approval to start community activities. Tensions build as Jimmy's presence in town ruffles the feathers of both the church and the IRA.

Ward portrays Jimmy as a soft-spoken but smart man who connects with the townspeople in a natural manner. He doesn't have to invoke god or make threats of violence to get people to listen to him. At times a bit too realistic for its own good, the slow-moving film paints a compelling portrait of one of Ireland's real heroes.

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