(On Cable TV, August 2016) Harsh but triumphant, In the Name of the Father tells the upsetting story of Gerry Conlon, a Belfast resident falsely accused of murder by the British Police and locked up for fifteen years before being set free, although not before seeing his father die in prison. Much of the movie is a showcase for Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays Conlon expertly while the character changes from an easy-going twenty-year-old to an almost-forty-something ex-convict. Jim Sheridan’s direction can be aggressive at time, with strong music cues dominating the opening section of the film, then pivoting toward a justice-reclaimed narrative later during the movie. In the Name of the Father’s showcase sequence is almost certainly the interrogation that closes the first act, as brutal a display of dystopian police authority as can be imagined. While In the Name of the Father is not always easy to watch, it is compelling enough to elevate the oft-familiar subject. Saffron Burrows can be seen in a small (but tall) role early in the movie.
(On Cable TV, February 2013) How can a film with a big twist be so predictable? Dream House first appears to be a formula-heavy haunted-house thriller with a family in peril and dark secrets underneath the floorboards. Then it turns into something much stranger, as the supernatural takes a back seat to the delusional and we’re left with a far less interesting murder mystery from a cracked perspective. The biggest problem with such plot twists is that if they don’t work, if they leave the viewers saying “Really?”, then the whole film has imploded on itself, with little left to say. Dream House compounds that issue by making all sorts of little mistakes: While it doesn’t try to end on its end-of-second-act twist, the film is left spinning its wheels for a long time after confessing, making a mockery of the film’s now-barely-comprehensible first half. Also disappointing is the way Dream House dangles a supernatural horror story in front of our noses only to yank it back to “just a crazy person!” and a dull movie-psycho ending. It’s surprising to see actors such as Daniel Craig (as effective as ever), Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts (both wasted in dull roles) in fare best suited for direct-to-video mediocrity. The film does look good, and a few moments could have been more interesting had they been in the service of a better film. It’s said that director Jim Sheridan made a mess out of a substantially different script, but the result is unarguable: As is stands, Dream House is a big wasted opportunity, a series of potentially promising tangents that, eventually, go nowhere.