Resurrecting Paul Greengrass’ Haunting Feature Debut

Resurrected (1989) is not an easy film to watch. If you’re a Brit, it’s probably even more difficult. The aftermath of a confused war (Falklands) has left the citizenry just as clueless. Add to that a society that has to make peace with its young dead and you have an uneasy scenario and setting. When you deliver a presumed dead soldier who returns, confused and amnesiac, seven weeks after the bloody battles are over, you have a meditation on small-town expectations and mores, bureaucratic shame and a world that doesn’t allow for black and white.

Based on a true story, the “resurrected” character is one Kevin Deakin (a mesmerizing David Thewlis) who stumbles upon a farmhouse, almost two months after the conflict has ended and the government has already held memorials and funerals for its dead. The military brass is not sure what to make of Deakin, always an odd duck, who cannot account for his whereabouts. At first they half-heartedly present him as a returning hero, although the reunion with his family is held behind closed doors while the more traditional homecomings are celebrated ostentatiously on a sunlit tarmac.

Much like a mute and slow Billy Budd, Deakin barely speaks beyond a whisper, picking at his lips and loping along in an awkward gait. Was he always like this, or is this a product of his PTSD? Resurrected raises more questions than it answers, and in this context, it’s a good thing. Deakin’s girlfriend leaves him for another townie (a frightfully young Steve Coogan) and his father and mother, quaint traditionalists, try to sweep the family’s growing frustration under the carpet.

David Thewlis in RESURRECTED

But it’s Deakin’s comrades, a displaced and seething platoon, who decide they need to know the reason behind Deakin’s disappearance. Soon, the possibility of Deakin’s desertion of his post and the Army becomes the prominent opinion, both in the barracks and the court of public opinion. In an attempt to cut suspicions off at the pass, a quick military hearing and verdict results in an “indeterminate” finding. This only creates more tension, until Deakin’s unit holds their own “kangaroo court,” and decides he is a deserter, resulting in a violent sentence.

What makes the film so frustrating, yet inspired, is not just that there are no easy answers, but that Thewlis’ performance makes him both unappealing and difficult to empathize with. He’s a gawky, pale, mumbling and weak protagonist, who keeps so much inside that the audience has little to go with. He experiences horrific flashbacks as his comrades are blown apart (one of his best friends is left alive, with half a brain) – so that we can all appreciate the horrors of war. In fact, one of the few sympathetic soldiers shouts out to his brothers at the height of Deakin’s bullying; “It could have happened to anyone!” But clearly, if it had at least happened to a man with some type of identifiable “track record” or ability to express himself, things would be more cut and dry; which is exactly the point of the filmmaker.

Paul Greengrass is that filmmaker, and although Resurrected was his first theatrical film, he had honed his craft making political documentaries for the BBC. While his style is definitely assured, the work exudes a more somber and temperate pacing, much less flashy than his shaky cam, docu-style actioners Green Zone, Captain Phillips, and The Bourne sequels. Here, his later trademark verite moves would have felt excessive and unnecessary. While the battle scenes could use a little more style, they are only a footnote to the daily goings on of the story, and offer a stoic and sober distancing from the characters and action.

Director Paul Greengrass

Twilight Time’s Limited Edition Blu-ray is crisp and clean. It’s always surprising when films, even as recent as the late 1980s, can already appear washed out, unless they are preserved immediately upon release. Thankfully, this little seen gem can be viewed as fresh as the day it appeared. The package also includes interviews from Greengrass and Thewlis, which reveals some cool insider information; albeit delivered by both in somewhat exasperatedly monotone and rambling cadences.

If you like your films subtly executed, with unspoken and raw emotions just bubbling under the surface, than Resurrected will be your cup of tea. I’m curious to hear what other viewers think, as well as how it would fare in a theatrical setting, when the audience is forced to experience its murky motivations in a group environment.

Resurrected is available as a limited edition blu-ray only through Screen Archive Entertainment and the TCM Shop

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About Wade Sheeler 154 Articles
Wade Sheeler is a Reality TV Producer & Director, Writer, Frustrated lover of film and obscure music. He still makes mixed tapes if he likes you enough. For The Retro Set, he'll be covering the best new releases of classic and hard-to-find films on DVD, with an occasional foray into comedies and comedy teams you should really stay away from.

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