Wednesday 24 October 2018

Heist? I've got one word for RTE's shock docs...

John Boland

RTE1's latest gimmick is to give its documentaries one-word movie titles. Last week there was Heat, in which we were invited to compare chefs Kevin Thornton and Kevin Dundon to Al Pacino and Robert de Niro, even though fussing about with vegetable tartlets and raspberry mousses isn't quite as machismo as discharging Magnum 357s and AK-47s in crowded city streets.

This week there's the crime series Heist, though any resemblance to the David Mamet film is somewhat spoiled by casting Paul Reynolds instead of Gene Hackman in the lead role and by having David Davin Power instead of Danny DeVito as backup.

Heist is yet another series extolling the bravery and intelligence of the Garda Siochana in their battle against villainy, while at the same time pumping up the adrenaline by dramatising the villainous deeds as luridly as possible. That's called having your cake and eating it and already in the last 18 months we've had Crimecall and Cracking Crime and Feud and Hostage -- all of them revelling in reconstructions of violent criminal acts while paying dutiful tribute to the heroic responses by our armed protectors.

This week's opening programme concerned the Real IRA's attempt to hijack a Securicor van in rural Wicklow in May 1998. There was a flimsy attempt to put this into a wider context by invoking that year's Good Friday agreement, but the film's only real interest was in re-enacting the robbery. This was accomplished in the usual boring manner, with actors in balaclavas running around shouting and roaring, as they do in all such reconstructions, and with lots of jittery hand-held camerawork and fast editing as a cack-handed homage to The Bourne Ultimatum. Paul Greengrass has a lot to answer for.

And there were the usual reflex nods to the gardai, too. Even though the force had embarked on its infamous "blue flu" work stoppage, we were solemnly informed that it would have been an unthinkable "dereliction of duty" by the members of the national surveillance unit if they hadn't been tailing Republican dissidents night and day. For the van robbers, this selfless devotion to the security of the State meant that "the gardai were on to them" from the outset.

And could someone please explain the point of Use It or Lose It (RTE1), which reunites famous sports people with their former playing pals for one last run around the pitch? Ronnie Whelan, Tony Ward and Mick Galwey are to be the stars in future programmes, but the series led off with Sunderland boss Niall Quinn returning to Manortown United on the outskirts of Dublin and meeting up with his old mates for a match against Manortown's current team.

This, I assumed, was to be an exercise in nostalgia, with Niall and the lads recalling the good old days when they and the world were young -- an enjoyable wallow, if we were lucky, in old friendships, with a few reflections thrown in on how time and circumstances had changed their lives. But no, the programme turned out to be a health lecture masquerading as a reunion, with fitness experts and nutritionists on hand to furrow their brows about the shape the guys were in and to dispense the necessary advice .

In fact, the programme should have been called 'What Will We Do About Kevin?' because it spent most of its length worrying about a former Manortown player of that name who was overweight and had high blood pressure. Kevin was finally given a role in the match but not before he'd received a stern talking-to by the health gurus.

Niall and the boys seemed to be enjoying themselves in this oddly conceived little programme, but the viewer couldn't help feeling surplus to requirements.

Another odd series is This Is Me (RTE1), which looks at individuals suffering from various ailments and which this week told the story of John Baker, who's been battling against alcohol and against an obsessive compulsive disorder that threatened to ruin his life. He seemed to be on top of his problem and the film showed him visiting his brother in Cork and his sisters in Dublin.

"I wasn't even aware I had a mental condition," he told us. That was before he was referred to a psychologist, who was "able to turn me around", though how she did that wasn't explained. However, he now realises that "there's nothing to be ashamed of in having a mental illness".

At the end he cheerfully said "That's my story, and you can interpret it whatever way you like." But I'm afraid I hadn't been given enough information to do that.

The Qur'an (Channel 4), which looked at what presenter Antony Thomas called "the most ideologically influential text in the world", was that rare television event -- a two-hour programme that took a serious subject seriously and spurned pounding music, flashy camera angles and gimmicky editing in favour of a sober and probing investigation. The presenter didn't even appear on screen, preferring to let others explain, justify or criticise a sacred text whose ambiguity has encouraged both violence and tolerance in those who subscribe to its teachings. The film required the viewer's close attention, but it repaid it, too.

Meanwhile, in A Match Made in Heaven (UTV), a series about faith-based dating websites, Muslim lawyer Berihan, who's a bit of a raver, was looking for a Mr Right of the same religion. "I don't want Brad Pitt," she declared, "that's not what I want." Probably just as well, too, Brad being otherwise engaged at the moment, and anyway I'm sure Berihan wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of Angelina. Even the Koran couldn't save her there.

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