Entering the US illegally from Canada, wanna-be actor Johnny (Paddy Considine) and his wife Sarah (Samantha Morton) take their young daughters Christy (Sarah Bolger) and Ariel (Emma Bolger) to Manhattan where they end up in a run down apartment full of strange and edgy characters, including one whom they come to call The Man Who Screams (Djimon Hounsou) - Mateo by name. Their poverty stricken lives are haunted by the recent loss of their young son, Frankie, and fate seems to have no immediate plans to smile on the family. But Mateo's mysterious influence is secretly at work.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although I'm not sure exactly how much of this story is true, Jim Sheridan does stress that it's his most personal film, and it is the film's semi-autobiographical genesis that makes it so damned compelling. Young immigrant Irish family struggles against the odds and against its own internal demons to survive in the world's biggest rat race. Anyone with cynical leanings would start rolling their eyes, but Sheridan pulls the screenplay through several spectacular acrobatics to land it safely - just this side of sentimental.
Yet his work is nothing compared to that of his cast, especially the two little Bolger girls. (In a taped message to the Brisbane Film Festival Closing Night audience in August 2003, Sheridan explained how these two little girls got the roles, and how they really directed he film. On seeing them on screen, I believe him.)
Each in their own way provides us with surges of emotion, the circuit-breaking humour and the plain cute factor that galvanises an audience in a dark cinema to connect with a film like this. The adults are good, too, giving their characters a real dimension and tangible motives, genuine complexity and terrific humanity. Stepping back from the film tends to show up some weaknesses, but while glued to the screen, the magic holds and the emotions flow like currents, letting each character rise, fall - and sometimes be swept away. The fact that life isn't lived like a three act screenplay means that Sheridan has had to impose elements on the real story, and some people may find the ending a bit far fetched. But interesting writers don't create predictable, uncomplicated, knowable characters performing sensible actions. And anyone who assumes anything about people they don't know, is a mug.
Review by Louise Keller:
An extraordinarily moving and highly personal story, In America is an inspiring film about wishes and dreams. Writer/director Jim Sheridan has brought his own story into his storytelling, recalling his first experiences as an Irish migrant arriving in a sizzling hot New York with his family. The tragic and the miraculous are juxta positioned side by side. 'There are some things you should wish for and some things you should not' reflects 11 year old Christy, in whose words the story is told. Sheridan, in collaboration with his daughters Naomi and Kirsten, recounts with humour and compassion, the struggles, hardships, heartbreaks and triumphs against the odds.
This is a story about believing and the magic that makes us believe. Much credit for the film's success must go the superb cast, and that includes young siblings Sarah and Emma Bolger, as the two children. Paddy Considine's Johnny struggles to express his emotions, Samantha Morton's brave Sarah who binds the family together ('Make believe you're happy') and Djimon Hounsou's Mateo weave such emotional complexity that we lurch from laughter to tears in a matter of seconds.
Battling the devastating loss of their young son Frankie, Johnny and Sarah, with their two daughters Christy and Ariel make their home in a run down apartment block with junkies for neighbours. 'It's a bit of a hole,' Johnny comments as they disturb the dust and the pigeons, but as the pigeons scurry out the window, Christy's childish enthusiasm allows her to believe that their problems too, will fly away. But it is evident that this is a most unsuitable home for a young family, with dangerous junkies and a 'screaming man' who never comes out of his apartment. When angel-faced 7 year old Ariel confides to her father that she has no-one to play with, and no-one to tell her secrets to, our hearts are ready to break. With no air-conditioning, the family resorts to spending a couple of hours in the cool cinema, watching ET, and Christy wonders aloud whether ET going home means he has gone to heaven.
What lengths Johnny goes to keep up everyone's spirits: we can only guess the amount of effort required to take the family to the local fair and gamble all the rent money, in a bid to win a doll of ET. The development of the relationship with Mateo is one of the film's highlights - how could we ever forget the two little girls banging on his door, screaming 'Trick or treat' for Halloween. And watching Mateo, a huge, invincible man, shed tears as if his eyes just suddenly sprung a leak, when told what happened to their little brother. The treasures are the simple pleasures, like the game of hide-and-seek, and as the story's arc reaches its dramatic climax, our emotions are let loose. This is a three-tissue film, enhanced by its terrific music, and it takes us on a bumpy emotional roller coaster ride. Beautifully created and richly rewarding, In America reinforces that survival instinct and the magic that makes life beautiful.
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IN AMERICA (M)
CAST: Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, Djimon Hounsou
PRODUCER: Arthur Lappin, Jim Sheridan
DIRECTOR: Jim Sheridan
SCRIPT: Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Declan Quinn
EDITOR: Naomi Geragthy
MUSIC: Gavin Friday, Marice Seezer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Geraghty
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 22, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: May 5, 2004