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In America

Jim Sheridan's movies have centered on Irish families clinging together during moments of hardship. Mothers and sons ("Some Mother's Son," "My Left Foot,") or fathers and sons ("In the Name of the Father," "The Field") are hard hitting dramas, yet familial love radiates throughout the pieces, sometimes the only light in bleak films. With "In America" Sheridan once again visits the domestic territory. "In America" is as lyrical as an Irish lullaby.

Johnny and Sarah (Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton) illegally drive their two daughters over the Canadian border to reinvigorate their impoverished lives. They settle into a tenement in New York. Johnny jumps from audition to audition, hoping that an acting career will be the safety net the family desperately needs. But like every other unemployed actor, he struggles through a wave of rejections.

Surrounded by drag queens and drug dealers, the family finds making ends meet and keeping safe daunting tasks. Their love keeps them strong and when that begins to unravel, a peculiar stranger, Djimon Hounsou of "Amistad," saves the troubled family from tearing each other apart.
Sheridan paints a portrait of the family with nothing but each other. Similar to Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird," a little girl narrates. However, while Lee's classic is read by the wise adult version of 'Scout' Finch, our narrator Christy has yet to fully experience life. However, even at her young age, Christy displays a depth most adults lack. The defining moment in her life was the death of her brother Frankie, to whom she prays constantly (She believes her brother can grant her three wishes).
Sheridan and HIS two daughters Naomi and Kirsten have written a layered, tender story, borrowing from their own family dynamic (Sheridan own brother, Frankie, died of a brain tumor). The story radiates because there's such truth in the dialogue and situations. Had I not known a family wrote this script, I still would have guessed so.

The script pulls the audience into the small family moments. Even minor events cause suspense because the outcome will affect characters we love. Sheridan turns a carnival game booth into a centerpiece of tension when a carny holds the family's rent hostage.

The direction manages to be both intimate and epic. Johnny and Sarah make love in a primal way one evening that would make rabbits blush. Utilizing color filters and sweeping camera movements, carnal lust and wedded passion pervade the theater.

Cinematographer Declan Quinn's beautiful photography harks back to the lush work of Allen Daviau ("Bugsy," "Color Purple").

As the besieged couple, Considine and Morton are stirring. Considine's role requires him to portray rage, jealousy, fear, grief, adoration and quiet kindness. He hits every emotion on key. The luminous Morton is empathetic even when an illness renders her delusional. With two insecure adults, it's the little girl who plays family matriarch. Sarah Bolger demonstrates such power for a little girl. Wise beyond her years, the actress must contain the same old-soul wisdom to make her Christy credible. She is an actress to watch, like the Oscar winning performances from Tatum O'Neal in "Paper Moon" or Anna Paquin in "The Piano." Bolger's real little sister Emma is adorable as the youngest member of the family. Rounding out the cast, Hounsou, as the mysterious neighbor, is tender towards the family he reluctantly adopts.
In a year of disappointing sequels and remakes, "In America" shows heart missing in the Cineplex today. Director Jim Sheridan takes the immigrant story and transports it into the modern age. In doing so, he clarifies that the tribulations suffered by the characters in Barry Levinson's "Avalon" or "I Remember Mama" have not ebbed with time. A sparkling tribute to the people who remain the essence of our country's spirit, "In America" is an inspiration. Grade: A

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