To begin all over again is an American dream, a classic but remarkably hard one to accomplish. Irish migrs Johnny and Sarah (Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton) discover this when they hit the streets of Manhattan with their two young daughters, Christy and Ariel (real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger) in tow. The family faces an uncertain but hopeful future in America, but first they must face down a past that haunts every single one of them.
With no cash to spare, the family settles into a New York tenement populated by a colourful assortment of characters – and attempt to turn a less-than-attractive apartment into a true home. From dragging a beat air conditioner across Manhattan to finding make-do jobs, nothing comes easy for Johnny and Sarah. While the couple sees America as rife with challenges and dangers, Christy and Ariel see it as a magical place where anything can happen.
Christy and Ariel’s Halloween encounter with a mysterious neighbour named Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), is an event that begins to change everything. As the family heads for a crisis, Mateo becomes their unlikely ally in the territory where hope, faith and even magic hold sway.
In America is Jim Sheridan’s most personal film to date, he co-wrote it with his two daughters, Naomi and Kirsten, and it is also one of his best. This is saying a lot considering this is the filmmaker responsible for the brilliant My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father. The film works so well because it captures the magic, humour, dangers and promises of a new place to call home without becoming manipulative or melodramatic.
The people that the family encounters are three-dimensional and feel real, not the stereotypes one would come across in this type of story. There are moments where melodrama threatens to rear its ugly head and derail the dramatic momentum, but Sheridan and his exceptional cast and crew make sure that the movie stays the course.
Far too many times, families are portrayed in motion pictures unconvincingly, never making us forget that we’re watching a bunch of actors pretending to be an actual domestic unit. This doesn’t happen here. The performances by Considine, Morton and the Bolger sisters are all excellent, full of emotional power and conviction. Hounsou finally finds a role worthy enough to match the impressive work he displayed in 1997′s Amistad, with his fine supporting turn as the neighbour who helps the family as much as they assist him.
In America is a celebration, one of life, relationships, family and community. It’s a loving ode to the immigrant experience and the people, places and events we encounter in our everyday world. It’s a film that uplifts your spirits and emotionally moves you without manipulation. It is also one of the best films ofthe year.