If there's anything worse then having been a soldier in a war and seeing friends getting killed, it's being made to think nobody really gives a damn about them. Whether you agreed with it or not, the British army fought in Ireland for years and years and suffered substantial casualties. The soldiers weren't necessarily there because they wanted to be, but there they were and they were killed regardless of their opinion.
What must have been so galling to them was that the people they were fighting were terrorists who had no qualms about blowing up women and children who were removed from the war zone but most people seemed to forget that bit. Especially in America where there were no end of people willing to drop some money in a bucket to send off to the boys in Ireland. Do those people ever wonder how many people the bombs they paid for killed in London?
So, these soldiers were fighting terrorists for years and years and nobody gave a rat's ass. But all of a sudden terrorists attack mainland United States and everybody, including the British government, is willing to spend millions of dollars, implement stringent anti-terrorist legislation, and invade not just one, but two countries half-way around the world, all in the name of "The War On Terror"
If you had been a British soldier who had fought the IRA in Northern Ireland wouldn't you be feeling just a little bitter? Maybe even a tad cynical. If you were still having flashbacks because of what you'd been through, and now television is full of images of much the same shit, might that just push you over the edge?
In Cracker: A New Terror, a specially filmed final episode of the great British crime series, that scenario comes to life. Being released on DVD at the end of September by Acorn Media, Robbie Coltrane brings the irascible police psychologist, Dr. Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald out of retirement to help the Manchester City Police solve a particularly nasty murder. Fitz and his wife are in town for the first time in ten years for their daughter's wedding when one of his former colleagues asks for an assist.
A young American comic had been brutally murdered in a nightclub bathroom after his performance. There is the possibility of a witness, but unfortunately he's going to be reluctant to speak to the police as he had just stolen a wallet that night and is a junkie. The witness becomes even more important when the murder strikes again, this time a family friend of the young man.
Another reluctant witness, this time a woman having an affair with the second victim, is convinced by Fitz it would be in the best interests of her marriage to tell the police everything she knows. In other words, he threatens to phone her husband to tell him his wife was banging someone who was murdered while she was in the next room showering. It's surprising how quickly that jogs her memory.
Fitz is still the bull in a china shop that he was before he retired and moved to Australia when it comes to his family life and social situations. He gets drunk and embarrassing at his daughter's wedding, insulting the groom, and taking the piss of (jerking his chain) the groom's father. But it's his willingness to ignore his family while on vacation and do police work that especially compromises his relationship with his wife.
As the audience we know all along who the killer is and we see and understand what triggers him each time. He's one of the aforementioned veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the worst of the fighting. Everywhere we go with him, televisions are blaring out the latest news from Iraq. Reports of British soldiers being attacked, and sanctimonious quotes from George Bush and Tony Blair about the importance of fighting terrorism loop as an endless background litany reminding him of how he and his dead friends have been forgotten. Even the memorial garden honouring those British soldiers who died in Northern Ireland is to be closed because money can no longer be found for its upkeep.
It's enough to make you want to kill somebody. The script and the acting are so amazing that you really understand and sympathise with him. Quite frankly, of all the people he killed, the comic may not have deserved to die; making fun of British soldiers who had served in Northern Ireland in his routine sealed his fate, but the friend of the family was such an unsympathetic asshole that you can't believe anyone would miss him.
He was the type of guy who pleads for mercy because of his wife and kids, right after he'd been caught screwing someone else's wife. Ranks right up there with begging a judge for clemency because you're an orphan after you've murdered your parents in terms of trying to earn sympathy points. The thing is, that still doesn't give anybody the right to murder him. Our ex-soldier can try and earn our sympathy all he wants, but that still doesn't change the fact he murdered people who had nothing to do with his problems.
He'd been a cop for a number of years already meaning his tour of duty in Northern Ireland was a number of years ago and he's known about the flashbacks all along but has chosen not to do anything about them. His wife asks him to seek help and he refuses to believe that anyone can help him. Ultimately he makes the decision to be the person he is, a person who kills people if they piss him off.
When taken in that light his claim that he only did it because he was too much of a coward to kill himself is just an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. In the end, he's just as bad as any terrorist who uses "the cause" as an excuse for killing people who have nothing to do with the "war" they are fighting.
That's the beauty of this show — nothing is black and white, and the greys are even murkier. It makes for a wonderful contrast played out against the backdrop of certainty as proselytised by George Bush and Tony Blair through the media. Even our good guy, Robbie Coltrane's Fitzgerald, is a walking compendium of flaws. Aside from being an alcoholic, he's an egotist of the first order.
He knows his wife is against him getting involved with helping the Manchester police while they are there on holiday, but he does so anyway. Even worse, he lets her and their youngest son fly back to Australia without him. Everything is about him and feeding his ego and his need to prove himself useful. Perhaps it's not surprising that before he agrees to help the police he suffers from an episode of erectile dysfunction. But as with all self-strokers who choose to pleasure themselves at the expense of another's happiness, he ends up alone.
There are no spoilers to give away in Cracker: A New Terror as far as the plot is concerned; we are in on it from the start. What there is to watch is a tautly written and magnificently acted crime show with little gore, minimal violence, and not about strange mysterious forces out to destroy our wonderful way of life. This is a very human drama, about a severely troubled individual who was damaged by an act of unspeakable inhumanity.
If you're looking for a message in Cracker: A New Terror I would say it was you don't heal from that type of damage by inflicting it upon others, it only makes it worse and increases the chances of other people reacting in the same way. That's a message we could all do with learning, don't you think?
The DVD includes the usual making of special feature, but this one is a little more detailed as it does give you a good history of the series right from the start. Interview subjects include Robbie Coltrane, the writer, and the director. It's a widescreen edition and comes with the option of 5.1 surround sound, which in this case helps because of the unusual amount of background sound.