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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 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.

DVD Bonus features include a making of featurette, an audio commentary by director Jim Sheridan and deleted scenes with optional commentary.

Published May 6, 2004

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CAST: Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, Djimon Hounsou

DIRECTOR: Jim Sheridan

SCRIPT: Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurette – The Making of In America; Audio commentary by director Jim Sheridan; deleted scenes with optional commentary;

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: May 5, 2004

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