Cillian Murphy did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Damien O'Donovan in The Wind That Shakes The Barley.
Ah yes Cillian Murphy the man whose made my personal top tens three times yet I have never reviewed him. Well now here's the review to rectify this problem. Murphy has played some off-beat roles like in Batman Begins as the Scarecrow, but even with his unorthodox appearance he actually does often play the any man as well. That is the case here as he plays Damien O'Donovan an Irish doctor who in the opening of the film is just one of the men of the community. There is nothing particularly distinctive about him at the beginning of the film as he is just one of the men harassed by British soldiers after they caught playing game with the British claiming it is in violation of the ban on public gatherings. The film actually keeps Damien as such for almost the entirety of the film as director Ken Loach purposefully shows the community together in their fight.
Murphy is technically just one of the men in the group although he is of course given enough focus to be clearly lead. Murphy's performance is rather low key as this is not depicting the struggle of one seemingly larger than life man a la Michael Collins, who actually gets derided in this film. Despite the nature of his part Murphy never is overshadowed by the vision of the film. He allows Loach's to take this approach without question, as Murphy never goes for a grand standing performance, instead he stays very much in making Damien an average man in the situation. Murphy is terrific though by just realizing this average man in a very honest fashion. Whether it is his interactions with the other people or with his wife Murphy just has a genuine authenticity in his performance. There is nothing that seems forced about the man, and in addition, despite technically being a simple character, Murphy never makes Damien seem less than he should be.
Murphy by depicting Damien in just a realistic fashion makes the later actions of his character have the greater impact. If Murphy had made him the larger than life man when the rebellion takes place everything, interestingly enough, might have seemed simpler as it would have been a hero defeating his enemies. This is not the case though and Murphy does not accentuate the heroic qualities of the rebellion in his performance. This is particularly notable when they start to take a violent approach which includes executing those who were involved with the executions of Irish men. Murphy is great in this scene where Damien performs the killings on the men as he portrays it less like a folk hero, but rather more of a man who has never killed a man in his life. Although Murphy portrays a clear devotion to the cause he still portrays the mental anguish as Damien is finally takes a life for his cause.
After the bring the British to negotiations and they are given a form of independence a divide breaks with those who either think it is not enough freedom, or they also desire to introduce communism into Ireland. Damien is one of these men who refuses to become peaceful even after a form of peace has been created. Damien is one of the voices of dissent and again Murphy stays very much in the mold of keeping Damien just a man rather than necessarily a great leader. Murphy is effective in his delivery as he does not make a grand speech, but still the emotional statements of a man with the utmost conviction in what he believes. Murphy is good though by perhaps suggesting the weaknesses in Damien's abilities to change the mind of the others, including his brother, that not only fails to convince them but causes him to alienate them from his cause as though they were never even on the same side to begin with.
Cillian Murphy's performance artfully matches Ken Loach's vision for the film which is presenting the fight for Irish Independence from a more modest perspective. Cillian Murphy always reinforces this idea through his unassuming yet driven performance. The power of his performance comes from always representing Damien's journey of a normal man who has strong convictions. One of his best scenes that reflects this is his last scene when Damien is about to be executed for attempting to rebel against the new Ireland and refusing to tell where he has hidden his weapons. Murphy is quite out of the ordinary in this last scene because he actually does not present Damien as a man defiantly facing the executors. Instead he's rather heartbreaking by showing a man reacting with the fear of a man who is about to be killed as he does cry out, and breakdown in the moment. Murphy gives a remarkable performance as he makes the ordinary compelling.