We have fed the heart on fantasies
The Heart's grown brutal from the fare
More substance in our enemies
Than in our love
—William Butler Yeats
Cal (John Lynch) is a young, passive youth who lives with his father, Shamie (Donal McCann), in an Ulster County town where they are the only Catholic family left in a Protestant neighborhood. Besides being unemployed, Cal is troubled by his actions on a cold evening a year earlier when he drove the getaway car after his IRA school chum Crilly (Stevan Rimkus) assassinated a Protestant police reservist in his home and wounded the man's father. Cal's psyche is impaled on guilt, and he wants out of the IRA.
While his father toils all day at a slaughter house, Cal roams the streets and tries to esacpe the tensions of his war-torn community by listening to rock music. One day while at the library, he learns that Marcella (Hellen Mirren), an attractive woman who works there, is the widow of the slain policeman. He is mesmerized by her in ways that he can't understand or express.
After his home is fire-bombed by a Protestant group, Cal lands a job as a hired hand on a farm run by Marcella's in-laws. His father has a mental breakdown, and the depressed youth moves into a cottage on the farm, where he hopes the IRA leader, a stern and zealous school teacher (John Kavanagh), won't be able to find him.
Cal, adapted for the screen by Bernard MacLaverty from his 1983 novel, is a taut, compelling film about the tension, distrust and senseless violence that characterize contemporary Ireland. Pat O'Connor directs this drama with a keen appreciation for the small details which say more than words about what living in a milieu of life-threatening terrorism does to people.
Cal and Marcella (she's as shattered, lonely and lost as he is) reach out to each other and find in one evening of love a transitory relief from the bleakness of their beleaguered lives. However, Cal cannot flee from his IRA connections or from the police. In the end, he is hauled off to prison where his enemies will force him to pay for his sins. Unable to confess to Marcella his part in her husband's death, he is at least set free from the oppressiveness of his conscience. The morality and emotions rendered in Cal make it a rich and value-laden film. Don't miss it.