Director Lance Daly has created something we have never seen before, a revenge Western set in Connemara in the west of Ireland. This is no ordinary Western, it is in the same category as Clint Eastwood's 1992 "Unforgiven". It is every bit as brutal and violent. What adds a grave sense of realism is the setting of the summer of 1847 - the height of The Great Famine in Ireland.
The film manages to to achieve two great things: it provides a wonderfully gritty revenge story and it immerses you in the politics and suffering of the people of Ireland. During this period, the population of Ireland went from 8 million people to less than 4 million. The plight of the local population is drawn vividly in the scenes of locals camping outside the local Lord's estate in the hopes of finding food. Lest we forget, lack of food was not the issue. Black 47 does not shy away from the truth that barns were full of grain but it was being shipped to England while locals starved. It is difficult to watch and to understand the attitude of the ruling gentry to the the locals.
That's the backdrop. It is powerful and moving.
The film follows an Irish Ranger, Feeney (James Frecheville) who has been fighting for the British Army in Afghanistan. He goes AWOL and returns to Ireland to reunite with his family. Despite experiencing the horrors of war, he is shocked by the famine's destruction of his homeland and the brutalization of his people and his family including the eviction and death of his mother and brother. Feeney sets about his revenge on the instruments and people of the English occupiers. The English authorities send a tracker, Inspector Hannah (Hugo Weaving) to track and apprehend Feeney with whom he served in Afghanistan. The resulting violence is shocking and disturbing.
Weaving is in excellent form as the drunkard Hannah who wrestles with the mission to apprehend Feeney and the plight of the Irish people. As one of the multiple layers in this film, Hannah's struggle is real and human. Feeney's motivation for revenge is clear and we feel his pain as one by one his family die. The scene with his sister and nephew is particularly heart-breaking.
Ultimately, this film will fill you with horror - the horror inflicted by humans on humans, the disregard for lives and the brutality of all sides. It is wonderful to see a topic such as The Great Famine being tackled with such veracity on the big screen. On it's own it would have made a god film. The overlay of Feeney's and Hannahs story elevates Black 47 to greatness.
The wonderful cast is filled out with Stephen Rea, Jim Broadbent and Barry Keoghan who add to this wonderfully crafted film which on paper does not look like it would work. Delving into a nation's dark history - be that Irish or English - is never easy and Daly does so while providing the rarest of creations - an Irish Western.