It begins in Northern Ireland, 1975. A teenage Alistair Little tires of Protestants being killed in the streets, and so joins the Ulster Volunteer Force determined to gain the respect of his brothers by killing a Catholic. James Griffin becomes his victim, while little brother Joe Griffin looks on in horror. It's a gut-wrenching scene as Joe watches his brother gunned down, locks eyes with Alistair, then sees James bleed to death. Not only is Joe traumatized by the event, but he carries a deep resentment that his mother blamed him for not doing anything to save James.
"Heaven," directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel ("Downfall") and written by Guy Hibbert, focuses on young boys needing to be men. Alistair marvels at the power of holding a gun, without understanding the weight that comes with it. And Joe is constantly blamed for inaction, but what could a young boy have done? He intends to remedy that later during a meeting, set-up by the media, that unites him with Alistair. Joe, played as an adult by Nesbitt, anxiously rehearses the things he wants to say. He not only wants to relay the hurt, the disappointment in the lack of Alistair's punishment, but also to hear Alistair remove the blame that his mother put on him. He even wants to know if Alistair remembers the little things about that night, like the pictures that hung on the wall, cause Joe remembers everything.
Alistair, played by Neeson, is changed. He served twelve years for robbery and came out a voice for urging other young men that killing is wrong. He is confronted with the reality of his atrocities on a daily basis and he hates himself for them. It doesn't matter to Joe though. He spits at the idea of having to shake Alistair's hand, to reconcile, and then watch Alistair go on his merry way, forgiven. What's done is done. Revenge is key and even Alistair knows it.
The TV crew setting up around where the men will make their connection adds another dimension to the film. Only looking to make good television, the constant annoyance of the cameras, where technical mishaps happen that demand re-takes, only serve to hammer home that this is the most sacred of meetings. Watching Joe walk down the stairs to meet Alistair for the first time, only to have to do it again cause of tech-failure, are angering.
Neeson and Nesbitt are fantastic. Neeson shows the mental anguish Alistair has gone through for his atrocities but also the acceptance that he must do this meeting with Joe. And Nesbitt is an anxious ball of anger. Watching him rant about what Alistair did to him and the lack of punishment for that act is heartbreaking and pummeling in its level of rage. A counterpoint later on when he hears from a runner on the TV set that Alistair is now a sad, broken down man leads to an interesting reaction from Joe as well.
"Heaven" never loses track of these men as they grapple with the difficulties of forgiveness (as does the audience) and never hits a false note in showing what they go through. You anxiously wait for them to finally meet and when they do the suspense is very real. This movie is, above all, a human story with an important meaning in our terrorism-around-the-globe-world.