2 Hrs., 13 Mins.
In the Name of the Father July 11, 2018
eyes, was putting the film’s emotional impact first, the completely veritable truth second.
These aspirations might ring truer if the story being told were centuries-old, or if not much was known about the subject in the first place. But because the true story which drives In the Name of the Father was so reported on, Sheridan’s objective is concerning, not least because this particular material is perfectly capable of being cinematized in a way that is both dramatically rich and genuine.
It revolves around the plight of the Guildford Four, a quartet of young men who were falsely convicted for a series of Irish pub bombings in the 1970s. It is particularly concerned with the Belfast-bred Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis), one of the framed. Gerry, a shaggy-haired, small-time criminal, is a textbook case of the young dunce whose inability to stand up for himself makes it easier for coincidences to look like pieces of evidence.
The feature becomes particularly desperate when Gerry’s estranged father, the stoical Giuseppe (Peter Postlethwaite), also finds himself ascribed to a crime he didn’t commit. While staying with his family friends, the Maguires, in England, to better support his son, Giuseppe is arrested in association with the latter family, who themselves are falsely accused of passing nitroglycerin to the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
Not long afterward, Gerry and Giuseppe are sentenced and placed in the same cell, where they slowly mend their fragmented relationship. It is around this time that the movie’s title becomes apt: Although Gerry and Giuseppe’s connection is splintered at first, the former soon becomes more intent on clearing his father’s name than his own.
Sheridan’s apparent intentions to make the movie a picture characterized by its emotional candor is undercut by its monochromatic development. There is little here that can be differentiated from other movies similarly saddled with the “based on a true story” banner.
For decades, the biopic has proven itself among the most flavorless of genres; so often committed to narrative are these sorts of movies that they regularly feel as though they’re simply unfolding, with not much shading or much-needed exigency to be a lot else besides educational and simplistically interesting.
Clearly, Sheridan was well-aware of this unsaid truth going into production, and tried to avoid falling victim to the genre’s pitfalls with In the Name of the Father. But he mistakenly directs the film in the same style as most biographical pictures: too narratively oriented and stylistically stilted.
The ambitions to not be overtly political, and to prioritize emotions above accuracy, then, become hitches, not the positively subversive artistic initiatives Sheridan wanted them to be. The feature comes to look like something of an unauthorized biography: compelling in spots — namely the supremely acted, early interrogation scenes — but eventually undermined by the increasingly bothersome reality that much of what we’re seeing is just an inversion of the truth.
Upon discovering that Gerry and Giuseppe never shared a jail cell, that the courtroom scenes knowingly muddy the truth (the finger-wagging Emma Thompson character, who defends the father and son in court, both never appeared in the courtroom and never represented Giuseppe), and that Giuseppe’s name is misspelled in the closing credits, the movie is unavoidably taken down a couple pegs. It is lucky to have Day-Lewis, whose performance is measured and oftentimes explosive. If only In the Name of the Father were as unrestrained and persuasive. C+
wo days into 1994, the filmmaker Jim Sheridan sat down with the Los Angeles Times to discuss his most recent movie, the fact-based In the Name of the Father. Rather curiously, the 43-year-old Sheridan, who was then best known for helming 1989’s My Left Foot and 1990’s The Field, said the movie, foundationally political, wasn’t intended to be political at all. Later, in an interview the Telegraph, Sheridan admitted that he was never all that worried about paying attention to the details of the story at hand — facts, dates, and characters were all remixed and remolded to his liking. Ultimately, the name of the game, in Sheridan’s