Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008

Cracker: A New Terror

By David Luhrssen
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Forensic psychologist Edward Fitzgerald is padding down the aisle of a Manchester church, giving his daughter’s hand in marriage. The hulking figure is not a happy man on this happy day. In a one-off return episode of the award-winning British TV series “Cracker,” Fitz tells the wedding party that he’s rooting for American defeat in Iraq. After another drink, he proceeds to list his daughter’s many boyfriends and wonders out loud why she’d marry a dull boy, an accountant from suburbia.

Retired, living in Australia and home for the wedding, Fitz is bored with inactivity, sunshine and kangaroo crossing signs. The irascible former police investigator is itching for a case. Soon enough he has one. “Carcker: A New Terror,” out on DVD, is a two-hour reprise of the popular BBC series from the ‘90s. It stars Robbie Coltrane (who went on to become Hagrid in the Harry Potter films) as a jowly man who drinks on the job, smokes in the no-smoking section and maintains a barely disguised static of social disdain leavened with a lazy shrug of acceptance. Like a good detective, he sees patterns where others find only random events.

In ”Cracker: A New Terror,” a depressed and deranged former soldier, a veteran of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, begins to murder Americans. He blames U.S. citizens for funding the IRA, whose terror campaign to drive out the Brits took the lives of many friends and left his interior life in wreckage. Outwardly he functions well enough. He’s a Manchester police constable.

Director Antonia Bird helmed the visually dazzling episode, using recurrent montages of contemporary newscasts and flashbacks to sustain the killer’s descent into bloody rage. The news is all about Iraq, especially British and civilian casualties, punctuated with unctuous pronouncements by George Bush. The incessant media noise reminds him of his tour of duty in Ulster, which to British society has become a forgotten sacrifice, overtaken by the rush of newer events.

“Cracker: A New Terror” is gripping drama but is also interesting for what it reveals about America’s image abroad. In the post-Iraq world, Yankees often stand for arrogance beyond the red line of obnoxiousness, when they aren’t proffering hypocritical and ill-informed nostrums and imagining they can purchase the world on the strength of a weakening dollar.

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