Film Review: No Stone Unturned

★★★☆☆

Alex Gibney’s latest project, No Stone Unturned, is a mysterious, gripping re-opening of the unsolved 1994 Loughinisland massacre investigation. It is told with characteristic precision, compassion and determination by its prolific director.

Searching for needles in haystacks has long been Gibney’s metier but here the smoke and mirrors of governmental complicity and the thick mists of time that flow over a devastated rural community stand in the way of a long-sought truth. For the victims and survivors of a ruthless, cowardly revenge attack which left six innocent Catholic men dead and a community shattered, it has been a fight for justice of more than twenty years. On the night of the Republic of Ireland’s first ever World Cup tie (versus Italy at USA 1994), local men gathered in front a TV screen at the village pub. This sporting accolade, and the surge of optimism it brought to a nation approaching the end of The Troubles, but still riven with violent reprisals and insurgency, and in dire need of genuine hope, would be ruptured in a matter of seconds as further blood was spilt.

Three members of Ulster loyalist paramilitary group UVF drove through the gathering dark along country lanes, pulled up outside, crossed the threshold and unloaded the contents of an assault rifle into men sat at bar stools with their backs to the door. In a stirring, atmospheric opening, the events of the night in question are recreated to chilling effect. Just as the getaway vehicle’s headlights peer into the darkness of the Northern Irish countryside so does No Stone Unturned seek to shed an inquisitive light on a bungled, half-hearted police investigation which never found or charged any guilty party for the atrocity. Wading into the murky waters of informants, the tit-for-tat exchange and summary killings committed by both the loyalist and republican forces, the ever-changing alliances between loyalists and British forces and the growing suspicion of collusion between Special Branch and the perpetrators, we are sent down a spiralling torrent of deceit and cover-up almost too extraordinary to believe.

And Gibney is well and truly is in his element here. Maintaining a respectful, sensitive detachment, and without the fear of reprisal or recrimination which many of his interviewees suffer to this day, he ploughs for information in transcripts, reports and snippets of information gleaned from subjects who nervously shift in chairs and bite lips when they come too close to filling in the gaps, to joining the murderous dots. As Gibney himself notes, we have the plot of a story but no names to the characters – anonymised as they are by powers-that-be seeking to cover their own tracks. It is not clear how high the paper trails leads but perhaps most galling is evidence that suggests the attack could have been prevented, that it was allowed to proceed in order to maintain other ongoing operations. A necessary evil in the fight for the bigger picture.

Through Gibney’s perseverance and guile the British government’s callous treatment of this close-knit, embattled community is made clear. And though, as one bereaved figure will latterly comment, No Stone Unturned – and the police ombudsman’s report it parallels – uncovers the tip of an iceberg whose depths will probably never be known, it proffers sufficiently shocking revelations for the voices of those who have long campaigned for justice to no longer be ignored.

Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens