Saturday, 23 January 2010

All Is Nothing, Therefore Nothing Must End.

I have seen three of Jim Sheridan's seven features. I loved In The Name Of The Father, and watched it a number of times during the 90s, though I was younger then and my opinion may have changed, but my memories of it are very strong. I wasn't overly enamoured with In America - there were some good elements, but overall it didn't do it for me, though I thought Djimon Hounsou was fantastic (as I have thought he was in everything I have seen him in.) His first film, My Left Foot, falls somewhere in between.

Daniel Day Lewis, as expected, is terrific. He won his first Oscar for this role, very deservedly. (In fact, he also very deservedly won his second for There Will Be Blood, which I loved. Both his Oscars have been deserved. I like it when I can say that with true conviction.) He plays Christy Brown through Christy's older years, a man afflicted with cerebral palsy. The film is his true story (it is based on the autobiography of the same name), through his time as a child, learning to write using the only limb he can control, his left foot. It continues into him receiving speech therapy from Dr Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw) and discovering his talent for painting, once he got his foot under total control. It ends with him gaining decent celebrity as a painter and writer.

Growing up in fair poverty, with a family that just seems to keep expanding as more children are popped out, he is doted on by his mother (Brenda Fricker, who also picked up an Oscar here) and in turns loved and hated by his father (Ray McNally) who often views him hostilely as an embarrassment. Christy falls in love with Eileen and is devastated with her announcement of her betrothal, and his 'special' status both as handicapped and then as a genius artist lends him an arrogance manifested in his anger, particularly here.

Day Lewis plays Christy not always sympathetically - there are many, many points where Christy is a downright asshole, and Day Lewis never shies away from letting that come through. Yes, he is a tragic character in many ways, but that doesn't excuse the fact that he is often a knob.

The performances are uniformly terrific, but the film as a whole felt a little empty. I can't explain precisely where this feeling comes from - it just did. The technical elements were all fine, it looked true to what I imagine that period in Ireland looked like. Sheridan and co-writer Shane Connaughton adapted very well, the script is pretty perfect. The direction was fine also. I think there wasn't enough of a character arc for the supports to truly make this sing - Fricker and McNally's characters both seem to remain static, despite the ups and downs. Not enough is made of his relationship with his siblings to be able to get you emotionally involved with his broader family life, though his relationship with Eileen does give us a nice subplot, ably executed.

It's a 3.5 star film, for me.

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