When the Sky Falls

Ireland/USA 1999

Reviewed by Kevin Maher


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Dublin, the present. Journalist Sinead Hamilton interviews crime boss Martin Shaughnessy. Soon after Shaughnessy is murdered. Hamilton discovers that the IRA was involved in the killing. At police headquarters, Detective Sergeant Mackey learns that another crime lord, Dave Hackett, has been released from prison. Hamilton investigates Dublin's growing drug-abuse problems; against her husband's wishes, she takes their only son to an anti-pusher march.

After a fruitless raid on a nightclub owned by Dave Hackett, Sergeant Mackey decides to plant some heroin there, but his plan is foiled by one of Hackett's henchmen, Tattoo. Hamilton writes an exposé on an infamous Dublin bank robber and is shot in the leg in retribution. Tattoo is beaten up by members of the IRA. Hamilton meets with the IRA who denounce drug-related crimes and inform her that Dave Hackett is behind them all. She vows to expose Hackett, but he attacks her outside his house. Sergeant Mackey warns Hamilton that she's in danger from Hackett. On her way home from a court appearance, Hamilton is shot dead in her car.


Following Ordinary Decent Criminal, The General and Crush Proof, When the Sky Falls is the latest in a string of films set in Ireland that reject traditional representations of pre-modern bucolic whimsy in favour of gritty portraits of Dublin's criminal underworld. What immediately separates When the Sky Falls from these other Irish gangster movies, however, is the conspicuous extent to which it borrows from Hollywood. Here director John MacKenzie (The Long Good Friday, 1979) and his three scriptwriters have fused a plethora of US crime-movie conventions on to their skeletal tale. (Charting the crusade one fearless journalist wages against Dublin gangsters, When the Sky Falls is based on the life of crime correspondent Veronica Guerin who, before her murder, collaborated with writer Michael Sheridan on early drafts of the screenplay.) Hence, after a failed club raid, MacKenzie stages an impressive but superfluous car chase through deserted housing estates. Elsewhere gang boss Dave Hackett reclines in a Jacuzzi, drinking champagne, a corrupt mechanic is interrogated while working underneath his car, and Hamilton interviews crime lord Shaughnessy above a twinkling panorama of Dublin at night that brings to mind LA as seen from Mulholland Drive.

But it's in the characterisation of Sergeant Mackey that the film's stylistic debt to US thrillers is most prominent. Sporting permanent facial stubble and a scowl of disgust, prone to outbursts of violence, and at odds with his superiors, Mackey is played by Patrick Bergin as a Celtic version of that staple Hollywood type, the maverick cop, memorably embodied by Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan. It doesn't help that he is lumbered with a gormless partner, Dempsey, and unintentionally humorous lines such as "We're being made to look like fools Dempsey!"

Sergeant Mackey aside, MacKenzie's Hollywood plundering is sufficiently energetic to distract from the film's generally fitful narrative structure. Perhaps absorbing too much from Veronica Guerin's real life, screenwriters Sheridan, Ronan Gallagher and Colum McCann have constructed a disjointed narrative path that's dependent on the whims of Hamilton's commissioning editor. Hamilton reports on Shaughnessy, then on drugs, and then on a bank robbery, not because they are causally connected within an evolving storyline, but because she has been asked to do so by her boss.

Joan Allen plays Hamilton with unflappable dignity, often negotiating her way around an inadequate Dublin accent by sheer charisma. But the cloying and simplistic sentiment that underlies the scenes of Hamilton with her loving son leave you with the impression that the film would have benefited from a more ambiguous, less saintly central figure such as the one which emerges from journalist Emily O'Reilly's recent biography of Guerin.

Given the film's self-declared basis in reality, it is a particular surprise to see the IRA so sympathetically portrayed, if not lionised. Not longer the suave super-efficient killers featured in MacKenzie's The Long Good Friday, the IRA members seen here are depicted as paternal protectors of the public good. "This cesspit needs to be cleaned up," they say forlornly to Hamilton, referring to Dublin's drugs crimes, before adding, "Our methods are different but our goals are the same." That a movie devoted to a portrayal of the dogged search for justice could sanction such a muddled portrayal of terrorism is bizarre indeed.


John MacKenzie
Nigel Warren-Green
Michael Wearing
Michael Sheridan
Ronan Gallagher
Colum McCann
Director of Photography
Seamus Deasy
Graham Walker
Production Designer
Mark Geraghty
Pól Brennan
©Irish Screen Pictures
Production Companies
Sky Pictures presents in association with Irish Screen, Bord Scannán na
hÉireann/The Irish Film Board and Redeemable Features an Irish Screen production
Produced with the assistance of film incentives provided by the Government of
Produced in Ireland by Irish Screen Pictures
Executive Producers
Kevin Menton
Peter Newman
Marie Louise Queally
Co-executive Producers
Bruce Davey
Ralph Kamp
Rod Stoneman
David McLoughlin
Line Producer
John McDonnell
Associate Producer
Michael Sheridan
Production Co-ordinator
Emma Scott
Unit Production Manager
Mickey Walsh
Location Managers
Dave Morris
Naoise Barry
Locations Co-ordinator
Cait Collins
2nd Unit Director
Eddie Stacey
Assistant Directors
Robert Quinn
Suzanne Nicell
Aoife Thunder
Script Supervisors
Sue Field
2nd Unit:
Sabine Wuhrer
John Hubbard
Ros Hubbard
Additional Dialogue
Guy Andrews
Script Development Consultant
Ronan Sheehan
Script Consultant
Brendan Bourke
2nd Unit Cameramen
Sean Corcoran
Peter Robertson
Camera Operator
Des Whelan
Cinesite Inc
Special Effects
Maurice Foley
Reel FX
Special Effects Technicians
Graham Bushe
Marty Kelly
Brendan Walsh
Art Director
Conor Devlin
Costume Designer
Lorna Marie Mugan
Costume Supervisor
Jessica O'Leary
Key Make-up Artist
Morna Ferguson
Make-up Artist
Lynn Johnston
Key Hair
Martina McCarthy
Opening Title Sequence Design
Image Now Films, Dublin
Additional Incidental Music
Jimmy Smyth
Music Performed by
The Irish Film Orchestra
Chris Lawson
Paul O'Byrne
Joji Hirota
Chris McCarthy
Orchestral Manager
Caítriona Walsh
Music Editor
Jon Stevenson
Music Mixer
Chris Lawson
Orchestra Recorder/Mixer
Brian Masterson
"Full Circle" - Sinéad O'Connor; "Sleep with the Ancients" - The Spirit of Eden"; "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue"; "Open Asylum"; "Blockhead"
Sound Recordist
Brendan Deasy
Dubbing Mixers
Tom Johnson
Douglas Murray
John Fitzgerald
Supervising Sound Editor
Douglas Murray
Dialogue Editor
Sarah Gaines
Sound Effects Editor
Cathi Weldon
Jean McGrath
Gerry Roach
Michelle Cuniffe
Nicky Moss
Goro Koyama
Sharon Zupancic
Andy Malcolm
Ron Mellegers
Todd Beckett
Andrew Tay
Stunt Co-ordinator
Eddie Stacey
John McKenna
Joan Allen
Sinead Hamilton
Patrick Bergin
Liam Cunningham
John Cosgrave, The Runner
Kevin McNally
Tom Hamilton
Jimmy Smallhorne
Mickey O'Fagan
Gerard Flynn
Dave Hackett
Jason Barry
Pete Postlethwaite
Martin Shaughnessy
Des McAleer
Jimmy Keaveney
Owen Roe
John O'Connor
Gavin Kelty
Vincent Walsh
Frank Grimes
Paul McCarling
Ruaidhrí Conroy
Jamie Thornton
Liam Carney
Dessie O'Reilly
Paul Bennett
Seamus McDaid
Paul Hickey
Mark Dunne
Jeff O'Toole
Snots Mallon
Ian Cregg
Phil Myler
Fearghal Geraghty
Colum Hamilton
Patrick O'Kane
tall thin man
Antoine Byrne
Russell Smith
Sarah Pilkington
Marion Quinn
Patrick David Nolan
police superintendant
Paul Ronan
Danny O'Carroll
Shaughnessy's son
Gavin O'Connor
young detective
Phyllis Ryan
old woman
Bryan Baker
Steve Blount
Michael Devaney
Porsche salesman
Annie Ryan
MC at award ceremony
Hilda Fay
Martin's wife
Tom O'Leary
Sharon Barker
Paul Buckley
Kate Perry
woman in car
Gertrude Montgomery
production assistant
David McCarthy
car thief
Gail Fitzpatrick
TV reporter
Aoife Moriarty
heroin taking girl
Fran Brennan
police superintendent 2
Karl Argue
Eamon Glancy
Simon Delaney
Sparks bouncers
Patricia Devine
Sparks bargirl
Marty Sheridan
rave DJ
20th Century Fox (UK)
9,635 feet
107 minutes 4 seconds
Dolby Digital
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011