An Irish American Odyssey
"In America" is three things, it is a movie about immigration but one set in the now rather than the past and as such it is also a real movie which shows the rollercoaster ride of emotion for an Irish family as they deal with the ups and downs of starting a new life in the United States. The third thing is that "In America" is a brilliant movie, a different sort of movie which draws you into the real life issues of this family and allows you to appreciate things in your own life as we watch them deal with issues in theirs. It also features some great acting from the likes of Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton and Djimon Hounsou and a wonderful natural feel thanks to the different techniques used to tell the story. And as such "In America" is not a main stream crowd pleaser, it is different to the norm but it is also very good.
Wanting to start again Johnny (Paddy Considine - 24 Hour Party People) and Sarah (Samantha Morton - Minority Report) along with their two daughters illegally immigrate to the United States but it is not a bed of roses. Having moved into a run down apartment in New York with some very strange neighbours, they set about building their new life and trying to deal with the loss of their son which still haunts them. But as Johnny soon discovers life in the big city is hard especially for an actor as he is forced to take work as a cab driver whilst Sarah works as a waitress. Whilst life is difficult they makes friends, most notably the mysterious Mateo (Djimon Hounsou - The Four Feathers) who lives in the same apartment block and slowly things start to turn around for them.
One of the greatest things about "In America" is that it is a very real movie, the issues that the family encounter are not made up, these things happen. When we watch the father Johnny working as a taxi driver because he struggles to find work as an actor it's normal, the fact his wife Sarah works as a waitress to bring in the money is just as real. And that may make "In America" sound rather dull but this grasp on reality make it a rollercoaster of emotion as all the family struggle with this new life in America.
But whilst grasping tightly onto reality "In America" also finds humour or smile moments such as in a scene where they are going across the border from Canada to America, Johnny tells his daughter not to mention anything about what their real plans are and just say they are on holiday and does so immediately when stopped by the border guard. It's these sort of moments, these moments of innocence which just make you smile yet they are never ever forced, they all feel real. Even the darker elements, the friendship which forms between the family and the mysterious Mateo who lives below them in a run down apartment serves up a ton of mystery yet as it reveals itself it doesn't feel wrong. You have to say that Jim Sheridan who wrote and directed "In America" has done a wonderful job of taking real life and finding the drama, the humour and the whole rollercoaster ride of emotion and turned it into an entertaining movie without ever becoming contrived.
Part of the reason it is so good is that "In America" varies the way it presents itself. At times it feels like a fly on the wall documentary as we watch various moments on the streets, then it feels like a polished movie, next we get a view of what is going on via a home video camera which one of the daughters carries around with her and to add to this some sparingly used narration from the daughter as well. It doesn't mean that "In America" is a hodge-potch of styles but one which once more feels more like a glimpse of real life than a highly polished and rehearsed movie.
Add to this there is not a single bad performance in the move. Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton really deliver the reality of parents trying to make a go of it, whilst also protecting their daughters from the difficulties they are facing. And Sarah and Emma Bolger who play their daughters manage to deliver the whole innocence of youth without it every being cloying. But for me it is Djimon Hounsou as Mateo who almost steals the movie away from them as it is a powerful performance of almost raw emotion which is simply captivating.
All of which makes "In America" a strangely compelling movie and as the seasons pass and we watch these Irish immigrants go through the natural ups and downs it draws us into their lives making us feel like part of the story. As such there are certain elements, certain surprises which make us champion this family because whilst they have difficulties and problems from their past which haunt them they are a nice bunch of honest hard working people just trying to make a new life for themselves.
What this all boils down to is that "In America" is a really great movie which manages to convey the rollercoaster ride of emotion as a family struggle to deal with the ups and downs of starting a new life in America. It is definitely not a mainstream movie with it's various styles and it's story firmly based in real life but everything from the acting, through to the way director Sheridan manages to make the most of real life drama draws you into the story and keeps you completely glued till the credits roll. For a movie which is basically about real life it is very powerful without being forced.