In America accomplishes that rare feat of producing
a haunting, dreamlike narrative without sacrificing any of the elements
that ground a film in realism. Partially basing the work on events
from his own life, writer/director Jim Sheridan embellished and
rearranged the autobiographical account of his hardships emigrating
himself and his family from Ireland to New York City. The result
is a cinematic portrait inherently his own, yet universal in its
ability to draw empathy from its viewer.
Sheridan states that the reason for the family’s journey was
unique in the fact that it wasn’t based on economic forces
or religious persecution but, rather, an attempt at spiritual and
emotional salvation. Johnny, the father of the family played by
Paddy Considine, attempts to provide a happy and optimistic life
for his wife and children despite his emotional bankruptcy from
losing his only son. Considine delivers an exceptional performance
given the complex role. He understands that his character knows
he must go through the motions and continue trying for the sake
of his family but, at the same time, has buried within himself whatever
conviction necessary to truly fulfill his paternal obligations.
Samantha Morton, playing Johnny’s wife Sarah, once again manages
that quiet wisdom and strength evident in her earlier roles. Like
her husband, she reels from the untimely loss of her son but, unlike
Johnny, forces herself to remain emotionally present for the benefit
of her family. More so than her husband, Sarah instinctively knows
what her family requires from her and sacrifices her own pain in
order to provide it. It is interesting to watch moments where Johnny
takes certain setbacks as affirmation of their troubles while Sarah
knowingly smiles at his frustration, understanding how minute such
problems are in the grand scheme of things.
Djimon Hounsou plays Mateo, the initially scary tenant who incessantly
screams and paints a few floors beneath the family in the run down
building where they reside. Suffering from a terminal illness, not
unlike that which killed Frankie, the befriending of Mateo with
the family brings an interesting dynamic to the film. With the perspective
of a man who is on his way out, Mateo is able to fully appreciate
all that the spiritually dead Johnny takes for granted. He grows
jealous and frustrated that this stranger is able to connect so
easily with his family. If anything, Hounsou proves here that he
is too talented to waste his acting abilities on the Tomb Raider
franchise. In this film, he unearths a dormant gentleness after
initially displaying ferocity and anger. His scenes with the two
young daughters prove some of the best in the film. Unimpressed
by the intimidating acts of the insane recluse, the girls force
out the softer side of Hounsou and expose him for the ailing teddy
bear he is.
Rounding out the exceptional cast of grown ups populating the film,
In America welcomes newcomers Sarah and Emma Bolger. Ages 11 and
7 respectively, the real life sisters turn in performances incomprehensibly
mature for their tender ages. Child actors, understandably, are
not judged on the same level as their adult counterparts. Often
excessive praise is awarded young performers for the mere fact that
critics and audiences are astonished at how a person with such modest
life experience can convey emotions and attitudes beyond their years.
I myself admit that my initial impression of the young actresses
in this film was predicated on the same subconscious bias. Praising
their work merely for their ages, however, would be doing them an
injustice. The most valuable advice exercised by any talented actor
is not to act at all. Watching 7-year-old Emma absorb her new onscreen
surroundings, one would think that the little girl was not even
aware she was being filmed at all. Sheridan uses her more than anyone
else in the film to convey that sense of wonder and magical impossibility
that only a child can completely experience. It’s an impressive
task for any actress and Emma seems to effortlessly deliver.
As for Sarah, the narrator of the story, she relays a quiet intensity
that’s simply amazing to watch. Chronicling the exploits of
her family with her camcorder, Sarah’s most powerful moments
are given without the aid of dialogue. She understands the pain
and hardships being wrestled by her parents and sister and also
believes that she is the one meant to hold the family together.
Watching the maturity and conviction Sarah brings to the film and
her character, we’re hard pressed to disagree with her.
I truly hope that this film does not fall under the radar this season.
In America is one of those rare movies that makes you fall in love
with every single one of the characters populating its story. It
deals with the love of family and appreciation for your blessings
without ever once flirting with over sentimentality. It’s
a beautiful harmony of magic and realism, pain and redemption. It’s
one of the most emotionally engaging films I have ever seen.