December 2003
In America

Reviewed by Walter Orsini

In America
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Director: Jim Sheridan
Producers: Jim Sheridan, Arthur Lappin
Screen Writer Jim Sheridan & Naomi Sheridan & Kirsten Sheridan
Composer: Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer
Cast: Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Djimon Hounsou, Juan Hernandez, Nye Heron, Rene Millian









In America accomplishes that rare feat of producing a haunting, dreamlike narrative without sacrificing any of the elements that ground a film in realism. Partially basing the work on events from his own life, writer/director Jim Sheridan embellished and rearranged the autobiographical account of his hardships emigrating himself and his family from Ireland to New York City. The result is a cinematic portrait inherently his own, yet universal in its ability to draw empathy from its viewer.
Sheridan states that the reason for the family’s journey was unique in the fact that it wasn’t based on economic forces or religious persecution but, rather, an attempt at spiritual and emotional salvation. Johnny, the father of the family played by Paddy Considine, attempts to provide a happy and optimistic life for his wife and children despite his emotional bankruptcy from losing his only son. Considine delivers an exceptional performance given the complex role. He understands that his character knows he must go through the motions and continue trying for the sake of his family but, at the same time, has buried within himself whatever conviction necessary to truly fulfill his paternal obligations.
Samantha Morton, playing Johnny’s wife Sarah, once again manages that quiet wisdom and strength evident in her earlier roles. Like her husband, she reels from the untimely loss of her son but, unlike Johnny, forces herself to remain emotionally present for the benefit of her family. More so than her husband, Sarah instinctively knows what her family requires from her and sacrifices her own pain in order to provide it. It is interesting to watch moments where Johnny takes certain setbacks as affirmation of their troubles while Sarah knowingly smiles at his frustration, understanding how minute such problems are in the grand scheme of things.
Djimon Hounsou plays Mateo, the initially scary tenant who incessantly screams and paints a few floors beneath the family in the run down building where they reside. Suffering from a terminal illness, not unlike that which killed Frankie, the befriending of Mateo with the family brings an interesting dynamic to the film. With the perspective of a man who is on his way out, Mateo is able to fully appreciate all that the spiritually dead Johnny takes for granted. He grows jealous and frustrated that this stranger is able to connect so easily with his family. If anything, Hounsou proves here that he is too talented to waste his acting abilities on the Tomb Raider franchise. In this film, he unearths a dormant gentleness after initially displaying ferocity and anger. His scenes with the two young daughters prove some of the best in the film. Unimpressed by the intimidating acts of the insane recluse, the girls force out the softer side of Hounsou and expose him for the ailing teddy bear he is.
Rounding out the exceptional cast of grown ups populating the film, In America welcomes newcomers Sarah and Emma Bolger. Ages 11 and 7 respectively, the real life sisters turn in performances incomprehensibly mature for their tender ages. Child actors, understandably, are not judged on the same level as their adult counterparts. Often excessive praise is awarded young performers for the mere fact that critics and audiences are astonished at how a person with such modest life experience can convey emotions and attitudes beyond their years. I myself admit that my initial impression of the young actresses in this film was predicated on the same subconscious bias. Praising their work merely for their ages, however, would be doing them an injustice. The most valuable advice exercised by any talented actor is not to act at all. Watching 7-year-old Emma absorb her new onscreen surroundings, one would think that the little girl was not even aware she was being filmed at all. Sheridan uses her more than anyone else in the film to convey that sense of wonder and magical impossibility that only a child can completely experience. It’s an impressive task for any actress and Emma seems to effortlessly deliver.
As for Sarah, the narrator of the story, she relays a quiet intensity that’s simply amazing to watch. Chronicling the exploits of her family with her camcorder, Sarah’s most powerful moments are given without the aid of dialogue. She understands the pain and hardships being wrestled by her parents and sister and also believes that she is the one meant to hold the family together. Watching the maturity and conviction Sarah brings to the film and her character, we’re hard pressed to disagree with her.
I truly hope that this film does not fall under the radar this season. In America is one of those rare movies that makes you fall in love with every single one of the characters populating its story. It deals with the love of family and appreciation for your blessings without ever once flirting with over sentimentality. It’s a beautiful harmony of magic and realism, pain and redemption. It’s one of the most emotionally engaging films I have ever seen.