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Overall Rating

Awesome: 34.62%
Worth A Look42.31%
Average: 17.95%
Pretty Bad: 3.85%
Total Crap: 1.28%

6 reviews, 42 user ratings

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In America
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by Collin Souter

"The Hands That Built A Classic (almost)"
4 stars

There exists a danger in bringing angels into a story. One can always run the risk of being too corny, too saccharine, too whimsical or overly symbolic. The existence of angels remains a touchy storyline, not because of any controversy, but because they have been used as a hokey narrative device, an excuse to tell a lame love story and have become a cliché of symbolism. Basically, angels can be the kiss of death for any movie, but if used wisely, as in Jim Sheridan’s “In America,” the angel can be used to add mystery where needed. You don’t even need wings to make the story fly.

“In America” does not contain any overt angels, but they appear quite frequently in various forms. In many ways, the family depicted in Sheridan’s film needs the existence of angels in order to properly mourn the loss of their two-year-old baby, Frankie. It might be a subconscious need and it might manifest in different ways, but there exists a lingering soul-sickness within the lives of this family as it tries to start anew.

“In America” begins where many movies about grief end. The Irish family consist of four: Sarah (Samantha Morton), the mother, Johnny (Paddy Considine), the father and their two young daughters, Christy (Sarah Bolger) and Ariel (Emma Bolger). They have fled Ireland in order to start fresh in New York City. Johnny tries to make it as an actor while Sarah tries for a teaching job, but ends up a cashier. The older sister Christy records everything on a camcorder. The kids at school look at Christy and Ariel funny because of their Irish accents and homemade Halloween costumes.

That night, when trick-or-treating for the very first time, Christy and Ariel stumble onto Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), an angry, muscular and deeply troubled loner who paints abstract art in his apartment only to get angry with himself and destroy the painting. We eventually come to learn that Mateo has a very gentle soul. He takes an instant liking to the family and somehow manages to partially fill a void that they try to forget they have. Even Sarah being pregnant again cannot wipe away the profound sense of loss. The arrival of Mateo and the eventual birth bring about more unexpected sadness as the family attempts to fain optimism.

If all this sounds like too much of a downer, let me just say that “In America” has some of the most beautiful, hilarious and uplifting moments of any movie this year. Director Sheridan has thankfully put aside the usual IRA drama that exists in many Irish films (the brilliant “In the Name of the Father” and the not-so-brilliant “The Boxer”) and has settled for something more deeply personal. Throughout “In America,” Sheridan treads on that fine line between heartfelt sentiment and unbearable whimsy, miraculously never falling into the latter. He even manages to pull of a beautiful montage to the song “Desperado,” as sung by daughter Christy.

The movie has also been perfectly cast. Samantha Morton continues to expertly sell every scene in which she exists. One scene has her in a state of drug-induced delirium in which she blames Johnny of being responsible for Frankie’s death. She does not make obvious choices with her performance, but instead chooses to be less showy and more direct, making it all the more frightening. Newcomer Paddy Considine also possesses that same charm and depth that has been making Colin Farrell such an interesting actor to watch (you’d swear it was the same actor in some moments). Djimoun Hounsou has such a strong presence in every movie in which he exists, but I only wish his character had been a little more developed and explored. The two daughters, Emma Bolger and Sarah Bolger, are naturals.

“In America” reminds me a little of last year’s “Moonlight Mile.” Both films explore the complexities of grief after losing a family member, but with a strong sense of humor; both films feature a killer soundtrack; both films could be described as manipulative and flawed; both films serve as a catharsis for the director; both films will leave you in tears in spite of themselves. I walked out of “In America” genuinely pleased, but with a few questions: Did Sarah ever get a teaching gig? Can this family really afford an endless amount of blank videotapes? Why does Johnny drag that air conditioner down the middle of the street? Finally, could Mateo really have been an angel?

I could let these questions bother the hell out of me, but I won’t. The movie simply has too much going for it, not the least of which are a couple biases of mine that I should make clear: First, any movie that uses “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” as an integral part of its storyline can’t be all bad. Second, the movie features an exquisite score composed by two of my favorite Irishmen, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer. Third, I can be quite the emotional sap and I just flat-out fell for this movie hook, line and sinker.

“In America” does not come off as a mawkish love letter to America as its title or trailer might suggest. Grieving in America exists in the same manner as grieving in Ireland. Grief follows you and a change of climate will not make it go away, no matter how much one closes themselves off. The trick is to open your eyes wide enough to see the goodness of the people who magically make their way into your lives. Only then can angels truly exist on earth, alien or otherwise.

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originally posted: 10/08/03 11:58:43
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This film is available for download or online viewing at For more in the series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/09/09 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
10/01/08 Annie G Enjoyable movie that puts a different face on illegal immigrants. 3 stars
9/10/07 louciljohann very touching....heart-warming 4 stars
3/29/06 steve castleberry This is a good movie- The only one I`ve ever felt like rating. 5 stars
6/13/05 Steve Newman Awesome - go see 5 stars
5/27/05 Brendan An absolute classic. One of my Top 5! 5 stars
5/25/05 Diana R I thought this movie was great 5 stars
3/09/05 axefell resiliency of the eager-eyed optimist on display 4 stars
8/08/04 Mike McGilvray A touching, sad film well worth my time. 5 stars
7/18/04 scrambled brain it irritated me to no end 2 stars
7/06/04 Joan Cagney Very moving film - struck at my Irish American heritage 4 stars
6/21/04 Joli Darling Jim Sheridan's search for that which is authentic was more than realized in this film. 5 stars
6/01/04 maggie cloying-sacharine--annoying children 2 stars
5/21/04 Gretchen Ross wonderful, simplistic film that portrays the fragility and beauty of innocence 5 stars
5/18/04 Mike Excellent Film 4 stars
5/07/04 Megan It was totally amazing- it touched my heart and Emma and Sarah Bolger are amazing actress'! 5 stars
3/09/04 mouhamadou aw i need to watch a film online 3 stars
3/06/04 Jaco Visser Both character and moviegoer grow together in this master artwork. 5 stars
3/06/04 Helen Bradley A really bad film poor script and lousy acting 1 stars
2/29/04 jimmy two times free of stereo types. deals with the working class honestly. great film. 5 stars
2/20/04 john lovely, great cinematography, acting, goings-on etc. 5 stars
2/07/04 Valerie Cameron 2 Oscar nominations for grownups, but the little girls are the real stars. 4 stars
1/15/04 Kate Wonderful, but anxiety-inducing. I found myself waiting for harm around every corner. 5 stars
1/15/04 Betty White Really great Sheridan drama; Morton is outstanding as the mother. 5 stars
1/13/04 skysusan Great film; worth seeing 5 stars
1/10/04 CharlieDams Haunting, unforgettable. Excellent, believable acting. Photography, sets very good 5 stars
1/05/04 Lewis Menacing Black neighbor, a teddy bear in disguise, pays Irish family's big medical bill 2 stars
12/31/03 ownerofdajoint this movie works well on several levels;don't miss it 5 stars
12/28/03 Eleanor Finally, a functionaling family with all the love, and grief, honesty and trust that we lo 5 stars
12/17/03 Gus Touching movie 5 stars
12/10/03 hans lovely, moving film. Sarah Bolger is brilliant 5 stars
12/01/03 elizabeth beautiful film, oscar worthy in the vein of "My Left Foot" or "In The Name of the Father" 5 stars
11/29/03 Emperor's New Clothes? Nope. Just a Fat, Ugly, Naked, Guy. Personal and touching. Pieces don't quite fit perfectly, but close enough. 4 stars
11/22/03 Law Surprising, moving, compelling - great acting 5 stars
11/19/03 Esther Fabulous! Stunning performances and great music! 5 stars
11/16/03 Hal Underwood A great movie - I knew nothing about it before seeing it. 5 stars
11/07/03 Tony Hocking Thought provoking, with a fantastic debut from the little girls. 5 stars
10/27/03 Norm Engel Absolutely marvellous film. Wonderful acting from the lead characters, touches your hear 5 stars
10/24/03 julie dupree beautiful film 5 stars
10/24/03 Dick Briglia Wonderful Surprising Movie 4 stars
10/21/03 Brad Willard Loved this film 5 stars
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  26-Nov-2003 (PG-13)
  DVD: 11-May-2004



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