I've just come from seeing this in the cinema. It is powerful, brutal and honest. I can see why it won the Palme d'Or.
It follows two brothers, Damian (Murphy) and Teddy (Delaney), as they fight in west Cork against the British occupation, and the struggle Damian in particular has with his ever deepening involvement with the IRA, and the changing relationship between the brothers.
One of the only expectations I had when going to see this was that it would be unbalanced. The slew of reviewers calling the film "anti-British" had an effect. But the IRA were portrayed as being brutal also, if not to the same extent. And the film accurately portrayed the savagery of the occupation, in particular the Black & Tans (I've heard stories, first hand and second hand of instances of this). But it is the portrayal of the characters that is so exceptional. The acting is superb. Cillian Murphy once again impresses. He is fantastic. But less known (if known at all) actors hold their own. Padraig Delaney is brilliant, and the authenticity of the film is further improved with a cast drawn largely from Cork itself, many inexperienced actors, if they were even actors before the filming. Ken Loach's direction is visually impressive, and real. One scene in particular highlighted the realism. You'll know it if you see the film.
There are a number of things that one must understand to fully appreciate the film. One is that the IRA were a organised resistance, freedom fighters with limited training etc. The IRA of later times is separate, a terrorist organisation. Your opinion of the IRA as you know it should not extended to the IRA depicted in The Wind That Shakes The Barley. Two is that the film is not anti-British, it is anti-British-Occupation, if you understand me. British-Irish relations are better now then ever, and anti-British sentiment is minimal. Don't feel the need to get defensive, if you are English, and don't think of, or expect the portrayal of the IRA as being sympathetic.
I have been shocked by the views people have taken to the film. There appears to be a widespread ignorance, both in terms of knowledge and acceptance of, the colonial past of Britain and how brutal that history is. And so the nature of the film, depicting one instance of Britain's violent colonial history, is too severe for the ignorant.
This is a timely release, bringing a close look at the nature of violent occupation and "untrained resistance". I would imagine that, for an international audience, it would be hard not to draw comparisons with America and Iraq. Although, I didn't really think of it in that respect.
A masterpiece. The audience were raptured, shocked and in quiet awe after the first few minutes. I was deeply affected at the end.
10/10, and a better 10/10 then any other I've given.