Daniel Day-Lewis plays Gerry Conlon, a real-life Irishman wrongly sentenced to life in prison for the IRA bombing of a London pub in the mid-70s, and Peter Postlethwaite plays his father, who was also jailed. Adapted by director Jim Sheridan and Terry George from Conlon’s book, the movie falls over backward trying to avoid taking a political position and seems a few years off in its depiction of hippie London. But the acting’s so good it frequently transcends the simplicities of the script, and whenever Day-Lewis or Posthlethwaite are on screen the movie crackles. Emma Thompson is on hand as a lawyer who becomes interested in the Conlons’ case after they’re convicted. Evanston, Webster Place, McClurg Court.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jonathan Hession.
These two recent short features for British television by the late Alan Clarke (1935-1990), each running a little over an hour, are separate entries but should be seen back to back. They’re not only strong examples of Clarke’s corrosive social vision and his skill in directing actors but also impressive demonstrations of his stylistic range. Road (1987), written by playwright Jim Cartwright, offers a potent look at poverty and alcoholism in Lancashire, with impressive on-location camera work and dialogue that exults in its own theatricality and musicality (rather like that of Alan Bowne in Forty Deuce and John Guare in Six Degrees of Separation). The energetic cast includes Life Is Sweet’s Jane Horrocks, Naked’s David Thewlis, and Lesley Sharpe. The Firm (1988), not to be confused with the John Grisham cream puff, is a horrifying look at middle-class thugs who start fights at soccer games. Filmed naturalistically, it was written. by Al Hunter; the cast includes Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, and Philip Davis. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, January 7, Road: 6:00, The Firm: 7:15, 443-3737.
A Jewish smorgasbord from the former Soviet Union, a fantasy on Isaak Babel’s story of the same title, directed by Alexander Zeldovitch. This freewheeling 1990 feature interweaves erotic pageantry, illustrated tales from the Old Testament, and diverse stylistic exercises around the central story of a son of a Jewish laborer who becomes involved with the decadent Odessa underworld in the 20s. Sergei Eisenstein planned his own film version of this story with Babel himself in 1925, and while this is undoubtedly another kettle of gefilte fish, some over-the-top acting and lively mise en scene keep it watchable. (JR)
If Ken Russell invented the postmodernist biopic, Slobodan D. Pesic has taken the form to delirious extremes. Pesic directed this daffy tragicomedy about the late Russian literary visionary Danil Harms in Yugoslavia in 1988. Apart from a prologue and epilogue in color, the picture is in black and white with occasional dabs of yellow; several characters (both male and female) are played arbitrarily in drag; and among the anachronistic elements is post-50s elevator music that accompanies scenes from the 30s and 40s. Harms sounds like a fascinating figure, though something tells me this picture isn’t the best way to find out about him. Still, it can be recommended as an intriguing novelty, bursting with irreverence and eclecticism. (JR)