IN AMERICA (2002) 

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Paddy Considine
Samantha Morton
Sarah Bolger
Emma Bolger
Djimon Hounsou
Juan Hernandez
Neal Jones
Randall Carlton
Ciaran Cronin

Jim Sheridan



Time: 107 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Morton), Best Supporting Actor (Hounsou) and Best Original Screenplay.
Tragedy and triumph are at the heart of most of Jim Sheridan's films and IN AMERICA is no exception. Only this time around we're treated to an intensely personal journey based on his and his daughters' experiences of their first year in the Big Apple. It's a colorful tale full of sadness and heartbreak, yet the vibrant and honest performances by the entire cast make you believe there's a better future for this spiritually and monetarily impoverished clan. They sneak into America posing as tourists in an attempt to start their lives over. Johnny (Considine) and Sarah (Morton) hope that a drastically different change of pace will enable them to put the death of their young son Frankie behind them. Their two daughters Christy and Ariel (Sarah and Emma Bolger) are also affected by the loss of their brother, but quickly become enamored with life in New York, despite their obvious poverty and dangerous neighbors. While New York isn't always heaven on Earth, they manage to begin finding magic in their lives once more.

While the film doesn't exactly go over new territory, the fusion of learning how to survive in a new and often unfriendly place with the inability of the characters' – mainly Johnny – to emotionally move on creates a uniquely poignant story that digs into your soul with true poignancy and tenderness. There isn't much of a plot, but that's not the point of this experience. The film is mainly a series of moments that showcases the family's tenuous connection to each other and their environment. Just when you begin to think that the City will get the better of them, the true source of their potential doom comes from a darker and more devastating place – the hole left by Frankie. Christly believes that Frankie is watching over them, using his new spiritual powers to help the family escape from impossible situations. His absence, though we never see any physical evidence of him until the final frame, is palpable, following the characters like a ghost demanding to be heard. What he has to say, however, at least according to Christy, is not at all what you expect.

"When luck comes knocking on your door, you can't turn it away."

The family's friendship to a reclusive artist named Mateo (Hounsou) and the impending birth of a new baby bring more surprises and turmoil to Johnny's already frayed nerves. The only way he knows how to keep on living is to retreat from the potential for more pain. Not the best approach to life and one that drives a wedge between he and Sarah, who's doing her best to look to the future and might actually be forced to sacrifice her life for it. Their relationship, as created by Considine and Morton, is filled with regret, desire, guilt, devotion and a palpable sense of history most screen couples fail to generate. They make you believe that they've been through the wringer and you want desperately for them to find happiness again in this world. Both are raw with despair, however, Sarah chooses to fight while Johnny elects to hide. Morton is brilliant as Sarah, capturing her physical frailty as well as her emotional fierceness. She's a mother defying the odds, who's going to soothe her family's pain if it's the last thing she does. Life is full of wonder and living under a cloud of fear is not an option. A lesson Johnny comes by the hard way.

What's even more amazing than their performances, which are naked and engaging, are those by Emma and Sarah Bolger. Their quiet, open, exuberant, perceptive portrayals will take your breath away. That they never annoy and perform without any obvious affectations is a miracle in this age of desperate celebrity. Their real life relationship gives the film an added layer of depth and attachment that could not have been captured by two strangers. You will fall in love with them and wish they were your own kids. While Johnny disengages from his daughters, Mateo gets the opportunity to bathe in their youthful energy. On his way out of this world, he finds renewed hope and a release from his anger when he befriends the girls. The bare bones of Mateo's character have a well-worn feel, however, Hounsou brings a unique spark and perspective to what could have been considered a throw away role. Anyone familiar with his breakout performance in AMISTAD knows he is anything but boring onscreen. He captures your attention with a force of will and emotion that is utterly entrancing. He's a powerful presence that truly deserves to work more. Mateo's grand gesture at the end of the film will not come as a surprise to anyone, yet Sheridan still manages to make it meaningful and satisfying.

IN AMERICA is destined to make the soft-hearted weep unabashedly (I know I did). It's themes are fraught with mawkishness, but Sheridan and his daughters concentrate on simple, everyday moments to show how their family survived the loss of their innocence and found a new place to become whole again. The forceful acting and compelling story are aided greatly by the colorful art direction and evocative cinematography. Sheridan isn't exactly making a period piece – certain set pieces imply it's the early 80s, others are far more modern – but he does give his story a sense of the past and a unique view of the city that never sleeps. For those of you tired of the same old gross-out comedies or buddy action flicks, this is a beautifully acted, intelligently written story that delivers an honest and heartfelt message about life, love, family and friendship that will you leave you glad you spent a little time in Sheridan's world.

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