Retro Film Review: In the Name of the Father (1993)

in #filmlast year (edited)

Old saying about "life imitating art" has a rather sinister meaning for the author of this review. Reason for that is In the Name of the Father, 1993 film directed by famed Irish director Jim Sheridan. Due to some bizarre, hardly believable and now totally forgotten circumstances that dealt with internal politics of his country, the author of this review, in rather short, but extremely unpleasant period of his life, had to endure the ordeal in some frightening details similar to the one experienced by the movie protagonist. To make things even more sinister, my ordeal had practically coincided with the production of the film and later, while In the Name of the Father reached Croatian cinemas, I had to wait for the video distribution in order to come to grips with the dark and traumatic subject of the movie. The most sinister fact remains that this film was actually based on the true story.

The movie begins in 1974, during the peak of IRA terrorist campaign. Gerry Conlon (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is a young petty thief from Catholic portion of Belfast who doesn't care about politics, but that doesn't stop him from getting into trouble, both with British police and IRA. In order to save his life, his estranged father Giuseppe (played by Pete Postlethwaite) sends him to London where Gerry continues his life of squatting, doing drugs and comitting petty crime. In the meantime, IRA bomb exploded in Guilford pub, leaving five innocent people killed,and police is given broad authorities in order to bring the perpetrators to justice. For the task force led by Robert Dixon (played by Corin Redgrave), Gerry, his countryman Paul Hill (played by John Lynch) and couple of their friends represent the ideal suspects. They are all arrested, and threatened, harassed and tortured until they finally confess the crime they didn't commit. That confession sends not only Gerry to the prison for the rest of his life, but his own father is implicated and forced to share the prison cell with him. At first, Gerry is embittered and full of self-pitty, but seeing the stoical and moral example of his father, he begins to change and actually fight for his freedom. The defence lawyer Gareth Pierce (played by Emma Thompson) begins long legal battle in order to overturn the conviction.

Although the movie was based on Gerry Conlon's autobiographical book and although his premiere coincided with the first major breakthrough in Northern Ireland's peace process, In the Name of the Father actually is not the political film in the strictest of sense. The Troubles and real life tragedy of the innocent people who were caught in the crossfire serve only as a background for more intimate, universal and apolitical story about two Conlons. Screenplay by Terry George (that actually took many liberties with real life for dramatic purposes) puts the real emphasis on the relationship between Gerry and his father Giueseppe – and the great emotional gap between them, the gap that would be bridged under the cruellest of circumstances. Unfortunately, politics does play a role in this film, and in that regard, screenplay is somewhat weaker than when it deals with Conlons. Sheridan does indeed give a sense of sad Northern Ireland's reality in a very energetic and powerful riot scene in the beginning, but the rest of this two hour film barely rises to that standard. The second part of the film, that actually covers Conlon's prison years, is more formulaic and sometimes even cliched. The only exception is the "fire tears" scene, but, although powerful, it doesn't carry the film.

What actually carries In the Name of the Father are the superb acting performances. Daniel Day-Lewis is simply splendid in the very demanding role of the careless, stupid and unsympathetic youth that actually changes into strong, intelligent crusader for his own cause. But the real gem in this movie is powerful and unforgettable performance by Pete Postlethwaite, character actor whose moving portrayal of Giuseppe as quiet, simple but morally strong man is actually overshadowing Lewis. Other actors are also good, including Emma Thompson, whose role of defence attorney should have been expanded.

The main problem I have with In the Name of the Father, problem that, I must admit, has something to do with my experience, is in the fact that movie doesn't actually tackle some important and universal question. For example, story of Gerry Conlon could be used to illustrate how frail are such noble concepts like "human rights" and "due process" even in countries that pride themselves with centuries of democratic standards. It could also illustrate how powerless individual can be when he is picked by all-powerful state, and that, under the certain circumstances, even the Western democracies can be as mean towards the people as totalitarian regimes. In the Name of the Father, by concentrating mostly on an interesting, but in a global scale rather local issue of Northern Ireland, and on other level, personal issue of Conlons, failed to explore such areas. Which is pity, because this film, although still being good, had capacity to be really great.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on June 3rd 1999)

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