By Glenn Kenny
Padraig O’Malley is a scholar and what one might call an amateur diplomat. He is the peacemaker of this film’s title. The documentary, directed by James Demo, is not a portrait of an idealist. The Irish-born Mr. O’Malley is an often dour man, and when he speaks of his work, there are no stars in his eyes. One of his recent books, about Israel and Palestine, is called “The Two State Delusion.” In negotiation, as the movie shows, he is pragmatic, focused and often steely.
His story is an unusual one, which the director unspools by showing Mr. O’Malley first in a war-torn Iraq, then in the streets of Cambridge, Mass., where he teaches. (He travels so frequently he calls no place “home”). He enters a church, and we soon understand he’s in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Filming an A.A. meeting isn’t exactly kosher, but Mr. Demo doesn’t show the faces of the other attendees. (It’s not quite clear that this session hasn’t been staged specifically for the movie.
A good part of the picture relies on Mr. O’Malley’s account of his life with and without the bottle — members call it a “qualification” — during this A.A. gathering. He tells how he started in conflict mediation when, in the early ’70s, he bought a Cambridge bar and funneled its revenue into hosting a negotiation between warring factions of Northern Ireland — a first for these groups.
“I don’t love anybody,” the lanky, white-haired Mr. O’Malley admits during one interview segment. It’s his peculiar detachment, perhaps, that makes him good at what he does, even when the summits he hosts — he spent years in Iraq and in South Africa — yield nothing more than agreements on bilingual street signs. The movie is a fascinating portrait that is if anything too brief.