Sunday 28 August 2005

On a Clear Day (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

British movie, set in Glasgow, about a shipyard foreman who loses his job and his morale. Peter Mullan plays Frank, said down-on-his luck, whose wife, Joan (Brenda Blethyn), won't tell him she's trying to qualify for a job as a bus driver. He finds talking to his son difficult, too, because the other son drowned when they were kids. This son in turn has twins, who symbolise the lost brothers of the past. One day on a booze cruise with his old workmates, Frank gets the idea of swimming the channel. It gives him a purpose in life because he just can't face getting a job. Chan, the local Chinese chippy owner acts as his coach, which in turn gives him the self-esteem to stand up to the racist bigots who trouble him at his shop.

The premise sounds boring and bleurch, but it's surprisingly handled, not with subtelty, but with charm. It is a feelgood movie - no shame - but it tugs on the heartstrings without first soaking them in schmalz.

One of the most amusing things about this viewing (a free members' preview at my local Picturehouse), was that one of the reels half-way through the movie was back-to-front so that the picture was upside down, the action backwards and the voices like some Baltic tongue. Cue a ten-minute interval while the projectionist sorted it out.

Peter Mullan's performance is quite endearing, although his most expressive scenes are the ones in which he fails to say anything in manly, Scottish reticence. Billy Boyd (a hobbit from The Lord of the Rings movies) plays the clown friend, a rather stock role in British movies, and one which doesn't really stretch him as an actor (as this is what had been asked of him in LOTR). Not all the arty flashbacks and cut ups are successful, and the mis-en-scene is somewhat conventional; but there are some creative shots of the last ship leaving the Govan yards, visible from on top of the hilly streets of Glasgow, above the tenement housetops. It's nice to see Glasgow in the movies again, even if the film overlooks its hardness and sectarianism.

Nugget: a tear-jerker if you're in the right mood and are prepared to let it work on you, not sneer at it too much.

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