Would you forgive your brother’s murderer?

Forgiveness is a complicated, slippery thing. In the poignant and powerful Five Minutes of Heaven (in theaters 8/21), two men—a murderer and the victim’s brother, who witnessed the killing—grapple with the consequences of a horrific event that has caused a ripple effect of tragedy to course through both of their lives.

The film opens in mid-’70s, troubles-plagued Northern Ireland, where Alastair Little, a 17-year-old Protestant, shoots 19-year-old Catholic Jim Griffen three times in the head in front of his little brother, Joe. Cut to 33 years later, when a television show tracks the men down, hoping for a tearful and public reconciliation. But Joe (James Nesbitt) has other plans; he plans to murder Alastair (Liam Neeson). Neeson and Nesbit give complex, standout performances, and director Oliver Hirschbiegel keeps ratcheting up the suspense, less interested in assigning guilt than in the process of how to let go of the past. Given the film’s bleak subject, you might be surprised how hopeful a message it ultimately carries.

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