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*** Stars
(US 1999) Rated PG-13

Aidan Quinn, Moya Farrelly, James Caan, Stephen Rea, John Cusack

Directed by Paul Quinn

Writing credits: Paul Quinn

Sony Classics Pictures * 119 minutes

In a summer when THE PHANTOM MENACE is attempting to suck every spare dollar out of every family in America, and swill like NOTTING HILL masquerades as a charming romantic comedy, we should be grateful for even the slightly wider release of THIS IS MY FATHER, a masterfully crafted labor of love by the Quinn brothers, Paul (writer/director), Declan (cinematographer) and their well-known brother Aidan (star).

Kieran Johnson (James Caan, who is making a brilliant second career out of playing disillusioned, dissipated men) is a high school history teacher who has lost his enthusiasm. He has a chronically angry sister (Susan Almgren) who cares for their bedridden silent mother Fiona (Francoise Graton) and has an equally chronically angry son (Jacob Tierney). Frustrated with attempting to generate student interest in family geneology, and ineffectually trying to mediate between his sister and nephew, he stumbles upon a photograph of his mother as a young girl with a farmer, and a book of Yeats poetry inscribed with the name "Kieran" among his mother's old belongings, items kept locked away for years.

His discovery leads Johnson and his nephew Jack on a pilgrimage to Ireland, in an attempt to find the "Kieran" who had declared love for Johnson's mother Fiona many years ago -- and to determine if this "Kieran" is his father.

In Ireland, Kieran and Jack take lodging in a bed and breakfast run by Seamus Kearney (Colm Meaney) and his mother (Moira Deady), a quasi-seer who reveals the fateful story of the love affair between the spirited young Fiona Flynn (Moya Farrelly), daughter of the embittered and alcoholic widow Flynn (Gina Moxley), and Kieran O'Dea (Aidan Quinn), a "poorhouse bastard" living with his foster parents.

Making an attractively photographed film on location in Ireland is not difficult, but even in this verdant, picturesque environment, but Declan Quinn excels. His internal shots in particular are beautifully lit, clearly influenced by early Dutch paintings.

The performances are all understated but effective, with a quiet strength. I've always felt that Aidan Quinn is underappreciated as an actor. He's not flashy, and doesn't call attention to himself, but he always portrays characters with a quiet authority and coiled intensity, much like the late Burt Lancaster, to whom he bears an increasingly astonishing resemblance as he ages. His Kieran O'Day is both innocent and earnest; simple yet complex -- a man thrown into turmoil when emotion interferes with religion. Moya Farrelly is flirtatious and free-spirited as the young Fiona, a poignant counterpart to her stroke-silenced current day manifestation. Stephen Rea is simultaneously terrifying and hilarious as a fire-and-brimstone missionary priest, who seems entirely too curious about the details of "certain thoughts" revealed by Kieran in the confessional. And John Cusack is, well, John Cusack, in a completely gratuitous cameo role as a magazine photographer who conveniently lands on a beach where Kieran and Fiona are stranded, seemingly for the sole purpose of taking the photograph for their decendants to find. His role is poorly scripted, however, and a spirited round of American football seems forced. It is the sort of broad-brush characterization one would expect to find in a British film, not one made on this side of the Atlantic.

THIS IS MY FATHER is a languidly-paced film that is slow to get started, a throwback to the bittersweet love stories of the 1930's. Yet by the picture's end, the viewer is completely engrossed, and completely in thrall to these very human, vivdly-portrayed characters.

THIS IS MY FATHERofficial site

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Review text copyright © 1999 Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti is prohibited.

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