Monday 17 February 2014

Movie Review: In The Name Of The Father (1993)

Based on a true story, In The Name Of The Father delves into the Northern Ireland conflict, and through the story of one struggling family finds frightening failures that threaten the essence of the justice system.

It's the early 1970s, and Northern Ireland is gripped by sectarian violence. Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a petty thief in Belfast, but his brushes with the law have the unintended consequences of unleashing British Army fury on Catholic strongholds. Gerry's father Giuseppe (Pete Postlethwaite) has to rescue his son from IRA retaliation. Eventually Gerry and his friend Paul Hill (John Lynch) relocate to London, falling in and then falling out with a group of squatting hippies.

With Gerry and Paul close to homeless, the IRA bomb a popular pub in Guildford, killing five people. The politicians use the public anger to ram through powers of detention without charge, and both Gerry and Paul are picked up and harshly interrogated for days before agreeing to sign whatever statements are placed in front of him. Not only is Gerry convicted of the bombing, but Giuseppe and several other family members are also found guilty of enabling the bombing. Gerry and Giuseppe are left to rot in prison, until finally British solicitor Gareth Peirce (Emma Thompson) starts to probe the case.

A lesson on how quickly a democracy can fall into the traps of a police state, In The Name Of The Father shines the spotlight on police officers desperate to show results in the face of public outrage, and resorting to intimidating interrogations to wrest confessions out of the innocent. The film is at its best when the forces of authority are at their worst, and Gerry as an individual is all but crushed by the weight of an angry nation desperate for a conviction.

In The Name Of The Father does, however, suffer from an excessive length. Once Gerry and Giuseppe land in prison, the pacing slows down, and director Jim Sheridan looks for ways to pass the time. The plodding scenes do convey the stillness of life wasting away behind bars, but a running time of 133 minutes is a long time to invest in the story.

But the first and final acts are excellent. The early scenes in a tense Belfast and then London, as a shiftless Gerry heads towards a wasted life, capture a youth spiralling into the nothingness of the socially depressed 1970s, and then caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The climax of the film, with Pierce delving into the case, uncovering the flawed police tactics and powerfully presenting them in court, rebuilds momentum and achieves the desired emotional peak.

The two central performances are both magnetic. Daniel Day-Lewis brings his profound intensity to the role of Gerry, although the character only steps out to carve his own space late in the narrative. Even more impressive is Pete Postlethwaite in one of his most prominent screen roles. Giuseppe is caught between protecting his son and protecting his family, a balancing act that fails spectacularly and threatens his very existence. Postlethwaite brings to the role the calm presence of a man who never expects to be understood by his wayward son, but who nevertheless will soldier on to do his best for all the family. Both Day-Lewis and Postlethwaite received Academy Award nominations.

Emma Thompson is underutilized, Gareth Peirce only becoming relevant in the final twenty minutes. While Thompson displays passionate conviction in the courtroom scenes, her Academy Award nomination has to be classified as a surprise.

In The Name Of The Father is a cry to protect the principles of justice at the darkest of times, a fundamental concept that is all too regularly ignored.

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