From the director of In the Name of the Father comes a much more intimate tale of struggling to overcome adversity, both from the world around and within. In America is a sensational piece of art from Jim Sheridan, which is nearly flawless in its execution.
In America looks at Johnny (Paddy Considine) and Sarah (Samantha Morton), two Irish parents that have traveled to New York City to start a new life and to escape the grief of the death of their young son. They have two daughters, Christy (Sarah Bolger), who is perhaps too wise for her years, and Ariel (Emma Bolger), one who has yet to fully grasp anything. Together, they move into a slummy but roomy apartment, but have many ups and downs as they scrape by with little money and a sense of despair that has failed to leave them.
In America has great writing and acting, two elements that go hand and hand to make this movie as successful as it is. Considine, in the lead, is quite believable as the father, turning in a range of emotions. A little frustrating is the fact that he is never able to open up to his children, even when they so blatantly ask for it. Then there's Morton, who does a good job as well but seems to have a rather muted role. Her character is apparently less important than that of Considine's, and so when she is crying or struggling to make it to the next day, it is much harder to relate with her. The last few scenes with her are especially arduous to fully accept.
Having seen the previews for this movie for over a year (yes, the same annoying preview has been shown in theaters since 2002), I was rather surprised by the depressing nature of this film. I was expecting a much more feel-good movie, with more comedy and lightheartedness. In a way, I was pleasantly surprised, as it turned out to be much more than that. Still, a lot of the depression expressed on screen by the parents is perfectly balanced by the two children. While the eldest child is aware of her parents' grief, she is still a child and acts as such; she is the one that has truly moved on in life and put Frankie, her dead brother, in the past. The two girls are fun to watch in every scene; sisters in real life, their interactions are true to form and definitely bring a needed lightheartedness to this otherwise sorrowful movie. Emma Bolger, as the youngest daughter, is especially cute and entertaining to watch, but Sarah Bolger, delegated with the heavy duty of narrating the film, is much more than capable.
The real dominant figure in the movie is that of Mateo, which is played by Djimon Hounsou, a man who has repeatedly turned in good performances in everything from Amistad to Gladiator, yet never really gets the attention he deserves. His character Mateo is sad yet powerful figure, the person that the girls' father should be. Though he is surrounded by tragedy, he is still able to take joy in life with the things directly in front of him - the young neighbor girls that he meets. Hounsou commands every scene he is in, and if it were up to me, an Oscar nomination would be slapped on his wrist.
In America is a powerful and moving work of art that has everything from laughs to tears, yet it is all perfectly blended as it is in real life. The movie never rests at presenting life as is, a continuous battle where some days we win, and some days we lose. A few of the more emotional scenes seem a little forced near the end (the parents have essentially spent the entire film crying about their dead son), but just barely. This is easily one of the best films of the year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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