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IN AMERICA

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Djimon Hounsou, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger
Director: Jim Sheridan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: May 11, 2004

"Do you love her?"

"NoÖIím in love with you. And Iím in love with your beautiful woman. Iím in love with your children. I even love your angerÖIíM IN LOVE WITH EVERYTHING THAT LIVES!"

Film ****

Thereís a pure distinction between watching a movie and experiencing one. Jim Sheridanís much personal In America represents the latter form to the fullest. Itís one of those rare cases where watching it is to become engrossed in its every frame and moment. Itís a film of undeniable richness and raw emotional power that cannot be shaken and therefore must not be forgotten. In addition to The Last Samurai, this is by far the most emotionally involving cinematic experience Iíve had in recent memory.

The story, based entirely on Sheridanís own personal experience, details the immigration of an Irish family from their home in Dublin to America in the early 1980s. Johnny (Paddy Considine) and Sarah (Samantha Morton) and their two daughters, Christy and Ariel (played by real life Irish twins Sarah and Emma Bolger) are discovering the sights and sounds of New York City for the first time. The family is in search of two specific things in their move; a change for the better as promised by the land of the free and personal peace following the tragic accidental death of their only son, Frankie.

The familyís arrival in America doesnít come without a price, of course. The only shelter they can manage happens to be in a ghetto at Hellís Kitchen. The apartment building alone happens to house many addicts. Johnny, still in denial about the fact heís gotten over the loss of his son, struggles through numerous auditions in hopes of making it as an actor, while Sarah soon finds work at a nearby ice cream parlor. The daughters experience a huge kind of change in the form of attending the local elementary school.

One night, while engaging in first time trick or treating, the girls knock on the door of Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), whom Christy refers to in her narration as ďThe Man Who ScreamsĒ. Mateo, who is feared at first glance by the young girls turns out to be no less than a joyful and friendly soul. The man is indeed angry for some reason, as his roar of outrage can be heard throughout the building, but one glance at these two curious angelic faces, and he has become understandably uplifted.

What is to be appreciated about In America, aside from the fact that it is a deeply personal story, is the level of authenticity and reality that is reflected in filmís every frame. Scenes such as when Johnny struggles to have an air conditioner installed just so that the familyís living space can have cool air during the blazing hot summer. Another such scene is where Johnny, having just taken the family to see E.T., engages in a street carnival game to win an E.T. doll for Ariel. In the process, he ends up going through half of the monthís rent to do so.

The performances are all around outstanding. Paddy Consdine, who Iíve never seen before, makes a strong impression in his portrayal of the soul-crushed Johnny. Samantha Morton, who earned an Oscar nod for her performance, demonstrates the sheer power that was first illustrated by her turn in Minority Report. Fellow Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou delivers a shattering powerhouse performance that is sure to be remembered years down the road, as he makes Mateo into the all around soul of the film. And letís not forget the charming and irresistible Bolger sisters, both of whom go way beyond the standard child star level.

In terms of pure cinematic drama, In America is a milestone triumph.

BONUS: Sheridan wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay with his two daughters, Naomi and Kirsten. The character of Frankie is based on Sheridanís real life brother of the same name, who died at age 10.

Video ***1/2

Fox delivers a most impressive anamorphic transfer. The film has about an equal share of both light and darkly lit scenes, both of which turn up quite well with very little hints of visual distraction. The level of detail is high throughout the presentation, and colors are strongly displayed. Itís actually a two-sided disc, which is something of a downer, with the full screen version on one side and the anamorphic version on the reverse. In other words, flip it before you play it.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix supplied does a superb job in the areas required. Since this is mostly a film driven by words and story, there isnít much room here for strong surround sound power. However, the dialogue is delivered as clear as can be, and occasional music playback, including tracks such as Loviní Spoonfulís ďDo You Believe in MagicĒ and The Byrdsí ďTurn, Turn, TurnĒ provide nice sound delivery as well.

Features ***

Included is a commentary track with Jim Sheridan, 9 deleted scenes, a making of featurette, and an alternate ending. Since the disc is a flipper, youíll have to flip the disc in order to access all the features.

Summary:

In America, in addition to being one of last yearís truly great outstanding achievements, is one of the most effective dramatic films to come around in some time. Itís a pure reminder that Jim Sheridan is a remarkable storyteller and since this his life reflected on film, itís bound to be nothing short of cinematic beauty.