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With Australia being such a multi-cultural nation there is a lot to like about In America from the point of view of a region 4 citizen. Immigration, culture clashes and the right to freedom are often at the forefront of current affairs, whether it be political or just purely topical. To watch a film about a young family striving for a successful life in a foreign country was always bound to appeal to those who have seen it so many times before in real life. Film is the perfect medium to tell those kinds of stories and, provided they are told properly, usually translate into successes.


In America (Rental)
Movie
A simple premise allows for a deep look into the various characters in the film. Married couple Sarah (the terribly underrated Samantha Morton) and Johnny (Paddy Considine, looking like Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters) take their two daughters to the U.S in search of a new beginning following the death of their son, Frankie. The loss constantly plays on their minds, particularly Johnny’s, and threatens to burden them with grief for the rest of their lives. Sarah stands by her troubled man as he attempts to forge a career as an actor, without much luck for the most part, while their two daughters, Christy and Ariel, look on with a maturity far beyond their years.

Told through the eyes of the family as a whole but with an emphasis on Christy as the narrator, the film manages the delicate task of providing enough light at the end of the tunnel so as to not make the story just a dreary mess. One of the highlights is definitely the relationships that develop over the course of the movie, the first of which is obviously that of Sarah and Johnny. They balance each other so well as a couple and really do go through one hell of a character arc throughout. Their one moment of frivolity balances out their need to deal with the loss of a loved one together.

The other main relationship comes from what would seem to be an unlikely source when we first see him on screen, namely Djimon Hounsou’s Matteo. The building they all live in is riddled with drug addicts and general derelicts, while Matteo’s door has the words “Keep Out” painted in large letters on the outside. He occasionally lets out chilling screams from behind the door, something which was either not fully explained or this reviewer missed along the way. His character is fleshed out, however, when the two children take up the American tradition of “trick-or-treat”-ing on Halloween. They knock on his door, he doesn’t answer. But when they keep knocking he finally opens up in more ways than one. This exchange is an intriguing side story to the main tale of the family’s adventure in a new country and how they deal with grief.

In all there’s a lot to like about In America. Grief and sadness aren’t always inherent in the film, with many light-hearted moments sprinkled in so you don’t feel like the world is in disrepair by the end. Obviously the kids make things easier on the audience as they innocently go about living their young lives, while it’s good to see the adult relationships develop in their own way.

In America (Rental)
The cast provide the perfect mix of relative unknowns so that the story remains the focal point of the film. Samantha Morton is the only recognised actress among the handful of main characters, and even she unfortunately still struggles for real mainstream recognition. Her take on Sarah is a very interesting one, full of a lot of subtlety rather than anything over the top. The highlight is her interaction with Irish actor Paddy Considine, who is sure to be sent a shipload of scripts thanks to his effort on this one. Considine is magnificent as a father struggling to shake the burden of responsibility following his son’s untimely death. The final scene with Christy has to be seen to be believed and is easily among the most powerful finales of recent times. The emotion he portrays alone is enough to make the role an absolute standout. Djimon Hounsou, nominated for a supporting actor Oscar in January, fully deserves all the credit he has been given. Sure, it’s not the flashiest performance but his presence adds enormously to the emotional impact of the film. Without a brilliant performance from Hounsou the film may well have fallen flat, but the crucial nature of his character ensures his turn is duly noticed. The two children (sisters in real life) also give very polished performances, lead by Sarah Bolger as Christy, who shows a definite maturity and could well emerge as the next young Irish starlet.

If you’re after something light and fluffy then you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. There’s enough emotion here to make your mum go through a whole box of tissues, yet just the right amount of positivity to suffice. Samantha Morton and Djimon Hounsou are the standouts, but it’s really the story that drags you in and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. Not a feel-good story by any means, but definitely one worth checking out for fans of a wonderful tale.

Video
The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation provided here does justice to the careful visuals constructed on the film. We see a lot of hand-held camerawork and some intentionally dull, gritty sets, so the transfer had the potential to lag behind a little. Thankfully that’s not the case, with the sharpness and level of detail maintained very well throughout. Grain is apparent in most interior scenes but is more an aesthetic decision rather than a fault in the transfer.

Colours are rendered well, though the dull palette (save for a few scenes) doesn’t give the visuals any real chance to shine. The print is clean and free from any visual defects, which is to expected of such a recent release. The only complaint may be that things tend to get a little too dark in places, with the black levels bumped down probably a bit too far. However, that’s only a minor complaint with what is a darn good visual presentation.

In America (Rental)
Audio
A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is included on the disc and actually surprises with its clarity and use of surrounds. There’s very little scope for anything extravagant in terms of effects use but the audio mix does very well with what is on offer. A powerful rain storm pumping out of five (point one) speakers might be taken for granted by today’s technological standards, but it really is a highlight of the soundtrack. The rear channels are used mostly for ambient sounds and a few effects here and there, but when called upon they do the job well with incredible clarity.

The original music by Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer (who both worked on director Jim Sheridan’s 1993 hit In The Name Of The Father) fits in perfectly with the deep mood the filmmakers are trying to portray. All speakers are used to spit out the orchestral score with ease, and it really does sound great. There’s definitely nothing to write home about with the soundtrack but it’s a great little mix considering what is on offer.

Extras
A small but meaningful extras package has been assembled for this rental version, which is a welcome bonus considering most rental titles contain nothing but the film. First up is an audio commentary with writer/director Jim Sheridan, Irish himself, you immediately proclaims the film to be mostly about himself. The almost auto-biographical nature of the movie means that Sheridan’s commentary holds considerable weight as he speaks directly from his own experiences. There are also pieces of information about the structure of the film from a writer’s viewpoint, the various techniques used in the editing process and the effectiveness of the actors in carrying out familiar roles.

The most notable point from the track is that, unlike in the film, it wasn’t Sheridan’s son who died, rather his brother, making Johnny a version of his real life father. A terrific track that is well worth a listen. And listen carefully for Sheridan’s rather humorous look at his own directing, where he mentions “I don’t really direct the actors, I don’t try to get performances, I really just try to get them to fix my script.” Classic.

The deleted scenes package, containing ten cuts in all, is accompanied by an explanation for each by Sheridan. The scenes are really only more character development with some fleshing out of various side stories, but the original ending is an interesting alternative to the version in the final cut. And Sheridan also admits that it is strange a lot of material from the re-shoot was still left on the cutting room floor.

The final supplement to enjoy is a making of featurette called A Personal Journey. Running for around 20 minutes, the piece is a good overall look at the production featuring interviews with all the key players mixed in well with clips from the film. I couldn’t imagine wanting to watch this before the film (where I’m assumed it played on television during it’s theatrical run) but you do get a decent insight from the likes of Morton, Considine and Sheridan.

While there’s not a lot to wade through for this release, what is there is definitely high quality. Fans of the film will adore Sheridan’s candid commentary track, while the deleted scenes and featurette add some more worth to the package. No word on whether the retail version will differ in terms of extra features but if this is the bare minimum then it’s not too bad.

In America (Rental)
Overall
In recent times there have been a few films bucking the trend, where things don’t always have to unfold at a rapid rate to be effective. Whether it be relatively unknown romances like Dopamine and All The Real Girls, or critical hits such as Lost In Translation, brooding moods do often translate into really effective stories. In America epitomises this feeling and ends up being a darn good story overall. The disc itself is solid, with a quality audio and video mix coupled with a solid, if a little light on, extras package. Pick this one up and you won’t be disappointed.


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