Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson, Don Baker, Corin Redgrave
Rated R for Language and Politically-Generated Violence
The story of the Guilford Four is one of the most grievous miscarriages of justice. Four people were sentenced to life in prison for a crime they did not commit, and a half dozen others (including two teenagers) were sentenced to lesser sentences. But when the truth finally came out, the British government chose to save face and cover it up rather than letting these innocent men and women go free. Comparisons to the West Memphis Three are entirely appropriate.
On October 5th, 1974, a bomb blew up in a pub in Guildford, England, killing five people and injuring 65 more). Shortly thereafter, the police arrested and brutalized three men (Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill and Patrick Armstrong) and one woman (Carole Richardson) until they confessed to carrying out the attack. Soon after, additional seven, including some of Conlon's relatives, were arrested for conspiring with them. One of those was Giuseppe Conlon (Postlethwaite), who travelled to London to help his son Gerry's (Day-Lewis) appeal. But they were innocent, and it's up to a dogged lawyer named Gareth Peirce (Thompson) to set them free.
Of course, the film is about more than that. Actually, quite a bit more. In addition to telling what happened to Gerry and Giuseppe, co-writer/director Jim Sheridan wants to show the increasing understanding between father and son. At the beginning of the film, they're distant, as fathers and sons can be when they both become adults (especially when the son is into drugs and petty crime). However, it feels shortchanged. A little more time for it to breathe would have given it a stronger impact, because the two actors play off each other well. Similarly, their contrasting experiences in prison feel shallow and confused. Gerry has an ax to grind, which makes him susceptible to the lure of contraband drugs and the tutelage of Joe McAndrew (Baker), the real bomber. Giuseppe, on the other hand, places his faith in the justice system, and starts a letter writing campaign to raise awareness of their struggle, which in turn gets him involved with Gareth (how this happens is never explained...it's one of the film's visible holes).
What gives the film much of its punch are the performances. From top to bottom, the performances are excellent. Daniel Day-Lewis is like Meryl Streep; he's a living legend. And for good reason too, because when he's on-screen, he'll disappear into the role, although like Streep, he can't save a bad movie ("There Will Be Blood," "Lincoln"). Fortunately, this is a good movie, and his acting elevates this movie. Day-Lewis frequently plays angry and intense characters, and while there is a little of that here, Gerry is more subdued. He's a naiive kid who got screwed in the worst way possible and wants revenge, but he learns that that may only make things worse. This is one of his best performances.
To me, Pete Postlethwaite will always be the Old Man from "James and the Giant Peach." His character was what I remember most from that film, but he is nothing like he's ever been as the idealistic Giuseppe. In Gerry's words, he sees the good in people, and that makes him easy to get behind. Not to mention it provides a great contrast to the angry, sullen Gerry. While Day-Lewis is riveting, ultimately it's Postlethwaite who is the most memorable.
Emma Thompson, one of the most gifted British actresses, is left playing third fiddle, but that's okay. This isn't her story. That said, she does her job as only she can, except for the climax. She is riveting until the script forces her to do and say things that aren't credible, and it hurts the film. Blame the script and the director, not Thompson.
The two villains, Don Baker and Corin Redgrave, are totally detestable in different ways. Baker, the famous Irish musician, radiates coldness and malice, but it takes Gerry a while to realize how truly vicious he is. And as the detective who chose a quick fix over true justice, Corin Redgrave is perfectly easy to hate. However, I will argue that his character should have had a more prominent role in the early scenes to give his character more power.
"In the Name of the Father" is not a perfect movie, but it represents two-plus hours of compelling filmmaking featuring acting of the highest order.