XXX 1/2 "In the Name of the Father," with Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson, Pete Postlethwaite. Directed by Jim Sheridan, from a script by Sheridan and Terry George. Broadway Market Cinemas. "R" - Restricted because of language, violence, subject matter. -------------------------------------------------------------------
Daniel Day-Lewis and his "My Left Foot" director, Jim Sheridan, have taken some less rewarding detours since that shoestring-budget Irish film came out of nowhere to land a couple of Academy Awards four years ago.
They're back on track with this equally spirited drama, also based on a true story about a young Irish victim of fate who won't give up when he's flattened. But whereas "Left Foot's" Christy Brown was an artist challenged by cerebral palsy, the hero of this film, Gerry Conlon, is a small-time Belfast criminal who becomes a scapegoat in the seemingly eternal struggle between Irish terrorists and the British government.
Conlon was one of the "Guildford Four," who were sent to prison in 1975 for an IRA bombing that killed five people near London. Evidence for their participation was nearly nonexistent, but they spent the next 15 years there, and Conlon's unjustly accused father, Giuseppe, died in jail in 1980. They were eventually released and Conlon wrote a book, "Proved Innocent," about their vindication.
No one involved in the movie suggests that Conlon was any kind of saint. That's one of the most refreshing things about it. He's introduced as an unemployed thief who steals junk metal and is unloved by the IRA as well as the local authorities. He goes to England "looking for free love and dope," hangs out with a bohemian group in an abandoned building, steals from a prostitute and seems well on his way to becoming a displaced Irish hippie.
For a time, the movie flirts with becoming as nostalgic for that era as the current miniseries "Tales of the City." There's even a prison scene in which LSD effectively relieves the monotony of jail life, although this quickly comes to a stop with the disapproval of Conlon's father (the excellent Pete Postlethwaite), who is sharing the same cell with his son. Eventually, the group finds a savior in a resourceful attorney, played with tart determination and sarcasm by Emma Thompson.
Not all of this is strictly factual, but it does make for engrossing drama, particularly in the father-son scenes, the prison episodes in which the real IRA bomber threatens to become Conlon's new father figure, and the rousing courtroom confrontations. British filmmakers would undoubtedly make a different kind of film, but Sheridan and his crew make a convincing case.
At every point, Day-Lewis is at the center of the story, and he carries the film with an impassioned performance. It helps that it's a great part. In the course of two hours, Conlon progresses from goof-off to estranged son to tortured victim to a man forced by circumstances to know and ultimately admire his doomed father.