Thursday, November 27, 2014

Movie Review: "In The Name Of The Father" by David Pretty

There aren't a lot of films dealing with "The Troubles" in Ireland, but along with 2008's Hunger, In the Name of the Father is one of the best.

Director Jim Sheridan tells the real-life story of Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis), a scrap metal thief who ventures to London in the mid-Seventies to try and escape the constant danger and despair in his native Belfast. But when an IRA bomb rips through a pub in Guildford killing five people, Conlon and three of his mates are snatched up by the British secret service who have just been granted sweeping powers of arrest and detainment thanks to the hastily-cobbled-together "Prevention of Terrorism Acts".

The authorities beat and coerce Conlon and his associates for seven straight days in an effort to wring confessions out of them. To make matters worse, when Gerry's father "Giuseppe" Conlon (Pete Postlethwaite) visits his sister-in-law Anne Maguire in London to assist his son, the entire family is swept up by the police as accomplices. All told, eleven innocent people were sent to prison for crimes they didn't commit, including Anne's fourteen-year-old son Patrick! In the mad rush to produce results and quell needless panic, witnesses for the defense were deep-sixed, evidence was concealed and latent confessions were ignored.

The balance of the film details the trials and tribulation of Gerry and his father, their effort to survive incarceration and the subsequent campaign led by an English solicitor named Gareth Peirce (Emma Thomson) to see them released. As she begins to peel back the layers of corruption we witness a contemporary example of why it's so important to preserve the due process of law, particularly during times of "terrorist threat", whether it be legitimate or the product of fear-mongering.

The film is a masterstroke. Sheridan takes his time, easing the audience into the story and generating a considerable amount of pathos for his subjects along the way. As a corollary, they aren't depicted as saints either, which lends more weight to their humanity. In Sheridan's capable hands, all of the pertinent introductions, complications, impossibilities and revelations are presented to us in an economic and engaging fashion.

Since the violence was starting to abate somewhat in the early Nineties, this afforded the film-makers a rare opportunity to shoot on location in Ireland. This gives the movie an original look and convincing tone. Belfast was still a bit too volatile at the time but Dublin fills in adequately, with its Docklands, Sheriff Street and Kilmainham Jail offering an unmatched level of authenticity.

The actors do a stellar job. Human chameleon Daniel-Day Lewis is incredible, investing as much effort in the physicality of the role as the emoting. Celebrated character actor Pete Postlewaite is absolutely superb as Jerry "Giuseppe" Conlon. His physical deterioration in prison mirrors that of his son's mental state and its heart-rending to think about how wasteful and unnecessary this all was.

A pre-Nanny McPhee Emma Thomson proves just how much of a treasure she is. As Gareth Peirce she's single-minded, earnest and strident. The scene in which she gains access to secret documents in Jerry's protected file thanks to a clerk's oversight intoxicates the viewer with overwhelming feelings of righteous vindication.

Back when this film was released it was just one of many fascinating stories to emerge from a dark period of modern British history. Now it's a contemporary warning against politicians who are trying to use the intangible but ever-renewing specter of terrorism to erode our freedoms and basic human rights. It's a clarion call for vigilance since, in many ways, our own liberties have been curtailed far more dramatically in recent years and with far less justification.

This is a very relevant, compelling and heartbreaking story.

Tilt: up.

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