Greengrass offers a step-by-step account of the events of Jan. 30, 1972, from various points of view, including reluctant Irish marchers, British paramilitary troops assigned to enforce order and their officers at headquarters. Primarily we follow Derry's Member of Parliament Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), a tireless organizer who's repetition of the line, "It's going to be a peaceful march for civil rights," sounds like wishful thinking even if you don't know what's to come.
Bloody Sunday only hints at deep-seeded conflicts between Irish and English, let alone Protestants and Catholics, but pays close attention to the tensions surrounding the march itself. Cooper and some sympathetic English officers make good-faith efforts to keep the situation under control, but IRA triggermen and British soldiers alike are spoiling for a fight.
Greengrass' hand-held camera frequently regards the action through doorways or over shoulders. That combined with the way scenes persistently fade to black creates a vivid impression that Bloody Sunday was edited together from footage shot by actual onlookers. Beneath the chaos of events, Greengrass has precise intentions.
We don't get to know many characters in Bloody Sunday and can't always comprehend the accents of those we do. But that doesn't diminish the palpable shock and disbelief of the demonstrators under fire, or our sense of horror when things go wrong. Imagine if a feature film existed of the famous photograph of the grieving Kent State bystander, and you'll have a sense of Bloody Sunday's force.
Greengrass wisely lets actions stir the viewers' emotions, without preaching at the audience. And he finds some historic ironies, like how a Derry moviehouse was showing the 1971 drama Sunday Bloody Sunday on that very day. Bloody Sunday affirms that truth is both stranger and more affecting than fiction. At the Tara.