There is a moment when the tension portrayed on screen is so powerful that “In America” succeeds as well or better than any film released in 2003. The scene involves a doll, a carnival game and the rent money. If all of the film had achieved the emotional level of that brief scene, “In America” would be one of the best, if not the best, films of 2003.

“In America” tells the story of an Irish family that moves to the United States to escape its past and begin a new life. In the film’s opening moments the audience learns that this family of four was, until very recently, a family of five. The burden of a lost child is still very heavy for this family, especially for the father—a struggling actor. The mother is a teacher who can only find employment in an ice cream parlor. They rent a drab apartment in a building filled with addicts, and the children begin school. Much of the story is told from the perspective of the daughters, and their insights are powerful. 


Director Jim Sheridan, whose films include “My Left Foot” and “In the Name of the Father,” wrote this script with his two daughters, Naomi and Kristen. Much of the story is based on their actual experience as immigrants to the United States. There are many scenes of adjustments and attempts by the family to adapt to the strange world of New York City. The screenplay is humorous, honest and occasionally, like in the carnival scene, brilliant. 


The film also boasts some stellar performances. Samantha Morton, playing the mother, gives a performance that rivals her tremendous work in “Sweet and Lowdown” and “Minority Report.” Paddy Considine as the father delivers an intense performance. Djimon Hounsou (“Amistad” and “Gladiator”) has perhaps his most emotional role to date. 


However, the performances that will most likely be remembered from this film are those given by real sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger as young Christy and Ariel. Along with Keisha Castle-Hughes in “Whale Rider,” these three girls deliver some of the finest acting work by juveniles this past or any year. “In America” is perfectly cast.


The problem with this film arises two-thirds of the way into the story. It would be a mistake to reveal too much. The early part of the film deals more with anecdotes of adjustment and issues of grief and loss. These scenes are almost unanimously moving.


When the film begins to build toward the climax, it actually loses some of the emotional intensity. The resolution is awkward, only to be redeemed by the final moments of the film. The last third may have worked better if it had been drawn out more. At only 103 minutes, the film could have been longer, developing the climax more. Perhaps there will be deleted scenes on the DVD that will enhance this section of the film, making a very good film great.


Alas, not all of the film could sustain the emotion of that carnival scene. Few films, even the very best ones, can hold the audience with such intensity from opening to closing credits. “In America” succeeds in telling a heart-warming and very human story. It is certainly a film worthy of a viewing. What would it have been, though, if all of it had equaled that moment at the carnival?


Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Ablemarle, N.C.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality, drug references, brief violence and language


Director: Jim Sheridan


Writers: Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan


Cast: Johnny: Paddy Considine; Sarah: Samantha Morton; Christy: Sarah Bolger; Ariel: Emma Bolger; Mateo: Djimon Hounsou.


The movie’s official Web site.


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