In America

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Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, Djimon Hounsou
Director: Jim Sheridan

While Neil Jordan’s last feature (THE GOOD THIEF) was an overblown and excessive European mess about art burglaries and smack-heads, his Irish contemporary Jim Sheridan sticks to what he does best. In fact, Sheridan is beginning to carve out a niche for himself, making films which analyse the Irish and their way of life in a subtle but moving way. His latest movie, IN AMERICA, forgoes the heady drama of his previous successes MY LEFT FOOT and IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, in favour of the magical whimsy of his INTO THE WEST.

The film charts the haphazard progress of an impoverished Irish family, recently moved to the US, trying to settle on the top floor of a rough Manhattan block of flats. Head of the family is Johnny (Paddy Considine), who tries to earn a crust as an actor. Meanwhile, his wife Sarah (Samantha Morton, sporting a great Irish accent) picks up work as a waitress. The remaining family members are Sarah and Johnny’s two daughters, 10 year-old Christy (Sarah Bolger) and her younger sister, the loquacious Ariel (Emma Bolger).

Despite their lack of wealth the family remain bubbly, and find much enjoyment in small pleasures. However, all members of the family are still tormented by the premature death of Mickey, Sarah and Johnny’s eldest child, who died of a malignant brain tumour. This death hangs like a giant millstone around the entire family, and is often the cause of friction and confrontations amongst them.

This is a good, worthy drama, which pulls, with great success, at the heartstrings. It is shot and scripted in a naturalistic manner by Sheridan and his family. Not one line of dialogue is off-key, rendering the whole production utterly convincing. The actors respond to the material accordingly; their acting comes from the gut, rather than from the head, as the cliche goes. Some of the dramatic confrontations are so raw and truthful, it is like they are improvised.

The film takes an unexpected but welcome twist halfway through. Living below the immigrant family is a lonely and angry looking artist. His name is Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), yet the people in the apartment block know him only as the ‘man who screams’. Sheridan initially makes him a truly terrifying bogeyman figure, boding no good. This leads to a scary moment when the two young sisters go trick or treating, on their own, and bang ferociously on his door. But it turns out he is a gentle giant, albeit a rather sad and lonely one. The family befriend him and he becomes a key player for the remainder of the film, imparting wise advice to the family and helping them overcome their fears and worries, despite having inner demons of his own.

Given the gloomy material this could easily have been an intensely miserable affair, in the manner of, say, ANGELA’S ASHES. Instead, this is an amazingly uplifting and reassuring tale, with a wonderfully soppy ending. The truth is I’m beginning to develop a vast fondness for Jim Sheridan and his unassuming but quietly affecting tales.

5 out of 6 stars