In the Name of the Father (Ireland/United Kingdom, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Sometimes it's only through the greatest of tragedies and the gravest of injustices that human beings learn to relate to each other honestly and openly. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Jim Sheridan's searing In the Name of the Father, where father and son come to an intimate understanding of each other through shared sufferings.

At eight o'clock in the evening of October 5, 1974, in a pub in Guildford, England, an IRA bomb explodes, killing five people. As public demands for justice grow to a fevered pitch, the police force, headed by Robert Dixon (Corin Redgrave), is forced to turn to the most likely suspects without regard for their guilt or innocence. Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Paul Hill (John Lynch), a pair of squatters recently arrived in London from Belfast, become prime targets. When Gerry's father Giuseppe (Pete Postlethwaite) arrives from Ireland to help his son obtain a lawyer, he is charged with participating in an IRA support network.

In a trial high on speeches and rhetoric but low on facts, the "Guildford Four", including Gerry and Paul, are sentenced to life in prison because the judge can't find a reason to hang them, and Giuseppe is given fourteen years. When, after sentencing has been carried out, the police find incontrovertible evidence of the Conlons' innocence, they keep it carefully buried -- until Gareth Peirce (Emma Thompson) ferrets out the truth while attempting to get Gerry and Giuseppe's convictions overturned.

As much as In the Name of the Father is about the true facts surrounding the conviction and eventual freeing of Gerry Conlon and his three innocent friends, the movie's primary aim is more intimate and personal: to show the development of the relationship between an estranged father and son. When Gerry and Giuseppe arrive in prison, they are virtual strangers, distant and cold. Years later, both have confronted their hidden demons and made their peace with themselves and each other.

In the Name of the Father is about victims -- those who do and don't fight back, and the different forms that those battles take. For the IRA, human life is cheap, and all targets are legitimate. For the police, it doesn't matter who's convicted, as long as the perception is that they're doing their jobs. And for the "Guildford Four", and those accused of aiding them, justice is unlikely and nebulous.

Jim Sheridan skillfully interweaves a myriad of subplots and themes into a fast-paced, cohesive whole. He tells of the setup, the corrupt police investigation, the first trial with its various perjuries and cover-ups, fifteen years of prison life, and the second trial. Each character is remarkably realized, and no situation is presented without the shades of gray that differentiate potent drama from its weaker imitations.

It would be hard to find a more dissimilar character to The Age of Innocence's Newland Archer than Gerry Conlon, but Daniel Day-Lewis brings In the Name of the Father's irrepressible protagonist to life with the same believability and strength of personality. Many of his scenes with veteran British character actor Pete Postlethwaite, who presents a memorable Giuseppe, are remarkable for their simple intensity.

In a supporting role, Emma Thompson turns in her best performance since Howards End, with a passionate interpretation of Gareth Peirce, a woman who invests more than mere time and effort into Gerry Conlon's case. Ms. Thompson's court speech alone is worth the price of admission, and represents one of the most stirring moments in recent cinema.

In the Name of the Father is a visual treat. There are no grand vistas for the cameras to pan over, but two scenes among many illustrate the level of photographic quality. The first is the stark and chaotic presentation of the Belfast riot. The camera puts the viewer into the streets in the midst of all the confusion and strife, creating a sense of immediacy that many action pictures fall short of. The second occurs much later in the movie, and is more serene and poignant image, as the windows of Gerry's prison cry "fire tears" to match his own manifestations of grief.

Trevor Jones creates a score perfectly wedded to the atmosphere of In the Name of the Father. At times brooding and thoughtful, at others violent and dissonant, Jones' orchestrations here are as distinctive as they are unlike his grandiose Last of the Mohicans work.

For a movie that is so politically-charged, In the Name of the Father manages to sharpen its focus on the individuals rather than the bigger historical tapestry into which their lives are woven. It's impossible to lose sight of the police cover-up, or the IRA's casual views on killing, but the brilliance of Jim Sheridan's motion picture is that we come to view every event from the perspective of how it impacts on the relationship between Gerry and his father, in whose name the final struggle is fought.

In the Name of the Father (Ireland/United Kingdom, 1993)

Ranked #2 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 1994
Run Time: 2:12
U.S. Release Date: 1994-01-14
MPAA Rating: "R " (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1