Fifty Dead Men Walking is based on the true story of Martin McGarland, who was recruited to spy on the IRA during the Troubles in Ireland. Just as the film shows that the conflict was not black and white, it also shows a masculinity that is far from black and white. Martin, played by Jim Sturgess, exhibits a lot of typical male-action-hero behaviours – he can be cocky, he’s shown as a mischevious trouble-maker from the start (pardon the pun!), and he does a lot of running and fighting in the film, showing a masculinity that is brave, determined and strong. However, he has his sensitivity as well. We see his emotional pain at the deaths of those from “the other side.” We see his reluctance to kill. We see his devotion to his girlfriend and family, and his respect for the strong women in his life.
Physically, he has a certain look about him that suggests sexy mystery combined with tenderness. The way he positions his face slightly outward can be interpreted as a challenge to a fight from a violent male, but more so it seems to deliver a more “feminine” sense of vulnerability, as if he’s about to get hit. I remember reading an interview with the director of Fifty Dead Men Walking, Kari Skogland, and she said that it was that quality of vulnerability about Sturgess that drew her to him for the role. Sturgess has eye-candy status in Hollywood, and I wonder if this is in spite of or because of this vulnerability? Does pop culture value male tenderness?