Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kathleen Turner in Person - Chicago International Film Festival

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

"One thing I want to make clear. It's always my choice of the roles I play." - Kathleen Turner

Stage and screen actress Kathleen Turner appeared at the Chicago International Film Festival on Tuesday night for special session before a packed audience who were there to listen to the actress talk about her career, which has spanned more than three decades. British film writer John Russell Taylor was the host for the event and asked Ms. Turner all sorts of questions about her work over these many years; a Q and A session with the audience followed and clips from some of her most famous roles were also shown. 

Interestingly Turner also appeared at a similar function for the Festival 22 years ago. She recalls saying back then (paraphrasing here) that she wondered about reaching a certain age where Hollywood might not care any more about her. "Well, I've reached it," the 60-year old proudly exclaimed.

Tuner regaled the audience with her charm and strong personality during the evening, as she recalled many of her favorite films in which she has been the leading lady. She certainly does not lack confidence, as evidence by a wonderful story she told about the making of Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), directed by Francis Ford Coppola, a role for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. The story had to do with a camera setup for a particular scene; Turner thought the camera should be in front of her, while Coppola had it positioned behind her. "I think the camera should be looking at me," she told Coppola. "Oh, you do, do you?" replied the director. The result was that Coppola made a deal - he would have Turner do as many takes as he thought necessary with his setup, while he would also shoot two takes with the camera positioned where Turner thought it was appropriate. As Turner finished telling this story, she beamed when she revealed, "In the film, they used my shot!"

She also revealed that she loves the theater (her notable performances include Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf) and has never gone more than two and one-half years away from the stage. She said that she loves the spontaneous nature of the stage as "each performance is unique. We're not robots - we can't give the same performance each night."

Continuing with that theme, she commented that she does not have that option with film, as once it's done and once the editor has assembled the footage, her performance is fixed. She knows that she can discuss a scene with a director on a film and ask to do it a certain way, but in the end, the director's decisions are the ones that are final. "I don't choose the performance you see and that bugs me."

"I'm stubborn, very." - Kathleen Turner

She talked about directors she worked with in the past, mentioning two that were a bit, shall we say, distinctive in their own special way. One was John Waters, who directed Turner in the 1994 film Serial Mom, whom Turner said was "the sweetest, most wonderful man, but that he was crazy - and he knows it." She also recalled Ken Russell, who directed Turner in the 1984 film Crimes of Passion. The actress had heard that he would begin drinking scotch at 6 in the morning on the days of shooting, but when she met him for the initial set ups, he was drinking wine. "Well, that's an improvement, I thought," she commented.

Turner certainly seems comfortable in her own skin. "Guess what, "I'm not the object of desire anymore," she noted. "Why should I be so one-dimensional? Longevity is in character acting. That's what I am, a character actor."


The festival press office and the public relations firm of Carol Fox and Associates in Chicago set up a brief one-on-one interview session with Ms. Turner before she sat down in front of the public; I was one of only five individuals who was allowed to ask the actress a question or two. My thanks to these people for allowing me this privilege; special thanks to Nick Harkin.

Here is my brief interview:

TH: Is there a historical character that you would like to play?

KT: That's an interesting question. I have a wonderful one woman show about Molly Ivins, a writer and humorist I loved. I'm taking it to Berkeley Rep now. I don't know if I'll take it to New York or not.

I don't like to say too much as I'm developing some ideas. I don't think I'd be right to play Eleanor Roosevelt, but I certainly admire her tremendously, but I'm not sure that's the role I'd be best at. 

TH: What about Joan of Arc?

KT: No, not Joan of Arc, but Elizabeth. Elizabeth l, of course.

TH: What advice would you give to young women who would like to be an actress?

KT: There is a lot of advice to give, I think. To every young actor, I will say, be brave. Don't be afraid to make choices, don't be afraid to say no to a project that you don't believe in because what it costs your soul afterwards is not worth it. 

But to young women - incidentally, I have a 27 year old daughter and today is her birthday. I'm often asked how to have a marriage, a child, a career, all of the above. Unfortunately, but truly, you or your partner or between the two of you have to make enough to hire a wife! That's the bottom line.

Thank you, Kathleen Turner for your time and thank you for the wonderful performances you've given us!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Human Capital - Chicago International Film Festival

Last year, Italy's official entry for the Best Foreign Film for Hollywood's Academy Awards (each country is only allowed one entry) was La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), which did in fact, win the Oscar at this year's ceremony. At this year's David di Donatello awards in Italy (often referred to as Italy's Academy Awards), the prize for Best Film was given to Human Capital, directed by Paolo Virzi. Having seen both films, I'd say the di Donatello awards got it right; this is a wonderful piece of movie making and story telling.

The film's premise is a clever one; a luckless, unnamed individual rides his bicycle home one night after work, but is struck by an SUV, knocking him unconscious into a ditch. The film then tells us three different perspectives of what might have happened, as each chapter follows the fortunes of one individual, each of whom is linked to the other in various ways. This organization helps us understand the motives of not only these three people, but everyone else in the film. There's a great deal of deceit and self-centered behavior throughout the film, one that is populated largely by wealthy people (wealthy at least in terms of finances), yet there is at least one individual who has a soul and cares about the fortune of others.

As directed by Paolo Virzi, Human Capital unfolds both as a mystery as well as an examination into human behavior and in many ways, a look at the moral virtues of modern-day Italy. At the heart of the film is a story about the relationship of a wealthy capitalist Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni) and his wife Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). He is setting up a fund that he is certain will bring his fellow investors a great return, as he is basing this on the economic collapse of foreign countries. He is constantly in meetings and has little time for his wife, who is bored, yet cannot find the strength to do much against his lack of emotion for her; surrounded by wealth, she does not wish to rock the boat.

We also follow the story of Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a simple man with a small business who needs money as his wife Roberta (Valeria Golino) is expecting twins; he meets Giovanni through a friendly tennis match and asks to be allowed as an investor in Giovanni's fund. Dino has to borrow from the bank to come up with the staggering sum he needs to join this group; he does so without telling Giovanni or his wife.

Meanwhile, Dino's daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) is attracted to Giovanni's son Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli), whose vehicle was the one that hit the poor soul on his bicycle. Whether or not Massimilliano was actually driving his SUV is a crux of the story; if he did, will Serena still be in love with him?

There are many strengths here and great credit must be given to the screenwriters Francesco Bruno, Francesco Piccoli and Virzi himself (the screenplay is based upon the novel by Stephen Amidon). The authors give us a world of three-dimensional characters, ones whose lives are incomplete, regardless of how much money or earthly possessions they have. In a key sequence, Carla sees an old theater that has fallen apart and she wishes to bring it back to life and create a new acting company. Her husband argues against it, but gives into her, apparently as his way of pleasing her. For Carla, this is her way of having something to do besides shopping and showing up at society functions, merely to please her husband. For Giovanni, this is the least he thinks he can do to show his wife how much he loves her.

The acting is first-rate throughout, as there are at least five noteworthy performances, especially from Tedeschi, Gifuni and Bentivolgio, and in smaller roles, Golino and Gioli. Tedeschi uses her voice remarkably well, her hushed tones representing her lack of emotional strength. As Serena, Gioli displays a natural quality that serves as a nice contrast to all the glamour and posh surroundings on the screen.

It is Serena who is the moral compass of this tale, as she desperately wants to help Massimiliano and as well as another troubled young man she befriends later in the film. There is wealth that is represented by money and belongings, but Virzi seems to be saying that real wealth comes from basic human virtues such as compassion, kindness and honest affection. What does someone profit if they gain money, yet lose the common touch?

Human Capital (Il Capitale Umano) - directed by Paolo Virzi

To be shown at the AMC River East 21 Theater, 322 E. Illinois Street, Chicago

on Thursday, October 16 at 8:30 PM and on Friday, October 17 at 5:30 PM

Monday, October 13, 2014

Oliver Stone - In Person - Chicago International Film Festival

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Oliver Stone was in Chicago on Sunday to talk about two of his films - Natural Born Killers (1994) and Alexander (2004) - that were bring shown in their director's cut to audiences. 

Stone spoke after the first film and before the second, commenting on questions primarily about Natural Born Killers. He commented on how much he had to trim to please the film board ("155 cuts, 155 f****g cuts!"). He also noted that Warners Brothers, his distributor, was not thrilled with the film, so instead of waiting until the fall for its premiere, they "dumped it" (Stone's words), opening the film on a traditionally slow weekend in August. "We broke box office records for that weekend," Stone noted.

He mentioned how that film was eerily prophetic in its depiction of media coverage of violence in America and that set him off on a typical Oliver Stone rant about the media and how they treat stories in our country. "They (the media) create the bad guy, they simplify everything." 

Natural Born Killers is an extremely violent film and the director had his say about media coverage of murders and other atrocities. "We instill violence (in this country)." 

He also talked about the insistence of the media covering violent stories and the qualities that these broadcasts instill in some people. Commenting on the mass murders in Columbine and other cities over the past decade, Stone said, "I think if I grew up in a suburb with a mall, I'd shoot somebody."

I laughed as did many of the audience; Stone emphasized he was not serious, realizing of course, how anyone who has a twitter account can take someone's words out of context.

Over the past few years, Stone has been working on a lengthy documentary for television called The Untold History of the United States. "I'm very proud of it," he said. He recommended this series to the audience as a way of realizing for ourselves how screwed up our country is and how often our government has lied to us. "We have problems exercising the democratic rights we're supposed to have."

Agree or not with his take on these issues, you've got to admit that Oliver Stone is honest and fearless in his comments. To my way of thinking, there are too many individuals who are ready to criticize others, yet have little to offer. Stone volunteered to serve in Vietnam, so he was a first-hand witness to that sad time in our country's history. He had the courage to make Salvador and JFK and also make a brilliant film Nixon that was both a Shakespearean look at the downfall of a leader as well as an introspective look at the political crises that have defined Washington, D.C. for the past several decades.

I don't always concur with him, but thank goodness for a breath of fresh air such as Oliver Stone.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"I've Seen the Unicorn" - Chicago International Film Festival

Major film festivals such as the Chicago International Film Festival (this year hosting its 50th annual celebration of cinema) are great affairs, if only for the fact that there is always a great array of offerings for film lovers. You can see movies on subjects from sexual awakening to charming treatises on the wisdom of the elderly or maybe you prefer more "important" offerings about social revolution in various countries or political dramas; there's usually something for everyone.

But after viewing many of the "serious" films, sometimes I'm ready for a smaller work, one with wit and insight about a subject I wasn't aware of. This week I've Seen the Unicorn is that film that enchanted me and told me a story about a small island and its love for horse racing, from the young boys that work the stables to the big name owners and jockeys that participate in the most important races.

The nation island is Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean. Having gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1968, the nation has, according to one inhabitant we follow in the film, "Beaches and horse racing."

The centerpiece of the film is a famous horse race, held annually, called The Maiden Cup. Every top stable, trainer and jockey do whatever they can to win this race, which brings to the victor great fame as well as some good money. We are introduced to a local owner named Soon Gujadhur, who heads the most successful locally-owned stable on the island. He has some very good horses, but he's never won this race, having witnessed foreign owners capture this crown. He's a sympathetic individual and we the audience, clearly root for him in his quest.

We also follow the plight of jockey Robbie Burke, who left his native Ireland years ago, as he knew he wouldn't be very successful at home, given the great number of riders there. He's done well for himself in Mauritius and as we follow his story, we learn that he is the leading rider on the island in terms of races and purse money won. But he's never won the Maiden Cup and as he will ride one of the horses owned by Gujadhur, we now have a double rooting interest.

Other individuals we are introduced to are a middle-aged bettor who attends the races four days a week, as he lives next to the track. He's a typical bettor, one that manages to cash a few tickets, all the while dreaming of hitting a big payout one day. We also watch a young boy of about nine or ten pursue his aspiration of becoming a jockey. That day may come down the road, but for now, he has to clean out stalls and hot walk horses; it's all part of a big dream.

In the final analysis, I guess it's this aspect of realizing a dream that makes I've Seen the Unicorn  such a wonderful, enchanting, personal film. Director Vincent Toi realizes that all of us dream big from time to time, so naturally we'll be rooting for Soon Gujadhur and Robbie Burke as well as that charismatic bettor and that young boy. We want to see all of them succeed and it's this human level that makes this film so entertaining.

Of course, if this weren't well filmed, if we didn't enter into the world of horse racing, then we wouldn't care. But it's done extremely well in all aspects, especially the scenes of various races, as the images are tight, the sound of horses' hooves hitting the turf are mesmerizing and the shots of the horses giving their all are pure poetry. The big race is beautifully edited, as the cutting take us from the view of the race to images of the owners and the fans screaming for their horse to win. It's a thrilling few minutes in the film and serves as a nice climax.

I love horse racing, so I was highly entertained by this film, which comes to us from Canada. But even if you know little about thoroughbred racing, all long as you're a bit of a dreamer, you're certain to enjoy this film and the inhabitants it chronicles so well.

I've Seen the Unicorn - Directed by Vincent Toi - Canada

To be shown at the Chicago International Film Festival on:

Saturday, October 11 at 4:30 PM and Sunday, October 12 at 3:15

at the AMC River East 21 theater, 322 E. Illinois Street

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Algren" - Chicago International Film Festival

"You must love a city's alleys... also its stray cats." - Nelson Algren

How appropriate that the Chicago International Film Festival, which begins its 50th year on October 9, is premiering the documentary Algren, about one this city's most insightful and decorated writers, at this year's fest. Engaging, edgy and filled with wonderfully entertaining stories about the writer, it's a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to the life and times of a truly unique individual.

To most Americans who knew his name, Nelson Algren was the author of the 1949 novel The Man With the Golden Arm, a frank novel about drugs in the inner city neighborhoods of Chicago. Yet the author had been chronicling the back alleys and dimly lit streets, what he called "the other side of the billboards" for many years before that. Beginning with The Neon Wilderness, a collection of short stories about whores, dope fiends and crooked cops, published in the mid 1930s, Algren became somewhat of a bard of the streets. He identified with these people and celebrated their lives for the next 30 years.

In the documentary, various friends recall Algren's personality and actions during his years in Chicago. Such luminaries as film directors William Friedkin, John Sayles and Philip Kaufman as well as writers such as Bruce Jay Friedman, Denise de Clue and even musician Billy Corgan discuss their thoughts about Algren, his influence and the Chicago neighborhoods that he featured in his prose. Much is made of his lack of skill at poker; Friedkin reminiscing that he really shouldn't have held those poker games in his apartment, as he lost too much money.

Director Michael Caplan, while giving us the usual talking heads that are seemingly part of every documentary/biography these days, has the good sense not to film these interviews in a static fashion, opting instead to place these individuals in front of text from Algren or in most cases, a vivid black and white photograph of the neighborhood's souls and passageways, taken by Art Shay, who also appears at a few moments in the film, discussing Algren's life.

Another important part of this documentary is the dissection of Algren's relationship with the famed French author Simone de Beauvior. Before she wrote her most famous book entitled The Second Sex in 1949, she was best known for being the companion and lover of French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. But one day in 1947, she flew to Chicago and was introduced to Algren; soon the two were lovers and had a relationship that lasted for four years. The breakup was sudden and unexpected and it shattered Algren, according to the individuals who talk about it in the film. "I knew that she loved him," says one of the interviewees, "because she laughed at every joke Nelson told, even though she couldn't understand them."

Algren would leave the city in 1970, as he felt he no longer needed Chicago and that Chicago no longer needed him. The film follows his last few years on the East Coast, as the writer finally found some meaning he had been missing in his life for many years, when he joined a writer's colony in Sag Harbor, Long Island in 1980, shortly before his death. Director Caplan clearly notes the sadness of Algren's departure from Chicago; this is one of the best sequences in the film.

The combination of stories and vivid Art Shay photos help move this film along effortlessly and help us get a great understanding of the thought process of Algren. Serious writer, socially conscious and also a bit of a clown with his small group of friends, Nelson Algren was a lover of life who embraced the back avenues of Chicago like no other author before or since.

Although I never met the man, after watching Algren, I feel like I know a great deal about him, so high praise for the work done by director Caplan and his team. Now I think I'll go read one of his books (after the film festival concludes, of course!)

Note: As the various individuals are seen on screen talking about Algren, they are identified as to their name and profession. However, William Friedkin, who appears three or four times, is never named. Friedkin is certainly a famous film director and has a distinctive voice, but there will be many who view this film who will not know that he is talking. Let's hope that the filmmakers catch this oversight and correct it.

Algren - Directed by Michael Caplan - 87 minutes

The film will be shown at the Chicago International Film Festival on these dates and times:

October 14 - 6:00 PM
October 20 - 12:15 PM
October 21 - 8:00 PM

The theater will be the AMC River East 21 at 322 E. Illinois Street

Friday, September 19, 2014

Chicago International Film Festival 50! - a Preview

The Look of Silence

The 50th Chicago International Film Festival will begin soon - who would have thought back in the 1960s that this event would have a 50th birthday celebration? But here we are, with opening night on October 9, featuring the premiere of Miss Julie, the latest film from Liv Ullman.

As this is the 50th festival, the organizers have put together an excellent array of films as always, but to honor this milestone, they have lined up an all-star collection of talent who will appear. Directors such as Oliver Stone, Taylor Hackford, Bob Rafelson and Ullmann will be in town for various events (Stone will appear at the screening of his director's cut of Natural Born Killers and Alexander: Ultimate Edition, both on October 12).

Among the films I'm most looking forward to is The Look of Silence, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. The director, who gave us the mesmerizing documentary The Act of Killing, which told the story of a few of the individuals who masterminded the government-sanctioned killings in Indonesia in the 1960s, has now made his followup to that film. This opus is about the brother of a victim who is still troubled by these events so much that he confronts one of the killers who bragged about his actions in that first film. I can't wait to see what Oppenheimer brings us with this work.

The Imitation Game, which won the People's Choice Award at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, is a story of justice denied. Directed by Morton Tyldum and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the film details the true story of Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematician who was a member of the team that broke the German Enigma code that helped turn the tide in World War ll. His work was celebrated, but a few years after the war, he was prosecuted for committing homosexual acts. Given Cumberbatch's marvelous screen acting these past few years, I'm very interested to see this work.

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, directed by Chuck Workman, is a documentary about the genius filmmaker, who turned Hollywood on its head in the 1940s and '50s. The film traces his life from his childhood and includes thoughts on Welles from such cinematic luminaries as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Peter Bogdonavich. For years, Workman made short films that were shown at the beginning of the Academy Awards telecasts; these shorts were beautifully made, displaying a love for the cinema that too often was missing during those broadcasts. I can't wait to see how Workman approaches the life of Orson Welles.

Another documentary I am looking forward to is Algren, about famed Chicago author Nelson Algren. Directed by Michael Caplan, the film incorporates interviews with artists inspired by his work; there are also many Art Shay photographs from the 1950s and '60s.

Of course, as this is the Chicago International Film Festival, there will be a good deal of local talent on display, including numerous short films created by Chicago film students. One of the feature films that will premiere is St. Vincent, directed by Ted Melfi and starring Illinois natives Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.

Finally, there will also be several classic older films that will be screened - some famous, others not so well-known. Why Be Good? is a 1927 film starring top box office draw Colleen Moore; here is your chance to see this film that was thought lost. Also showing at the fest will be Jamaica Inn (1939), one of Alfred Hitchcock's least known works; this starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara. Hitchcock expert John Russell Taylor will appear at this screening and will also appear at a special showing of the 1954 George Cukor classic A Star is Born, which has been restored to its original length and digitally remastered.

I can't wait for the festival to begin, as I know there are many films I want to see. Judging from the entire list of films (click here), there should be something special for every film lover! Congratulations to founder and artistic director Michael Kutza for five decades of tireless promotion of cinema in Chicago!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Inner Strength

John Steinbeck once wrote, "I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments." After viewing writer/director's John Michael McDonagh's latest film Calvary, you would imagine that the author of this work would change this statement to "I find I hate religion, but I admire the people that serve their life for its spiritual riches."

This is to state the obvious about this film - McDonagh is highly critical of the Church in contemporary Ireland and poses the belief that it has lost its influence on the masses. The opening scene in which a local man tells Father Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) in the confessional that he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a young man is primary evidence of McDonogh's feelings about the hypocrisy of Church doctrine.

If McDonagh wanted to, he could have made this a hateful film about this sorry episode of this man's youth (as well as the shame it brought the Church and its followers), but the author is too wise to let it go at that. McDonagh makes this a story about the priest and how he deals with his flock, a group that respects the man, but not his office.

As the opening scene concludes, the parishoner (we do not see his face and only learn of his identity very late in the film) tells Father Lavelle that he will kill him. As the priest who abused him died years earlier, he believes that someone must be punished for these sins, so he chooses Lavelle as his target; he loves the irony of killing an innocent man.

Lavelle is told by the man that he will murder him in one week, which will allow the priest to put his life in order before then. This straightening out of his life for these next seven days is what this film is all about, as Father Lavelle encounters several locals and learns of their sordid lives and lack of respect for the Church.

During these few days, his daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly, in an excellent, sensitive performance) comes back to visit (before he became a priest, Lavelle was married). She displays the bandages on her wrists, the result of a failed suicide. She needs her father now more than ever and he is there for her, even with a death threat hanging over his head.

Throughout the film, Lavelle has brief meeting with the locals; some of the encounters are more troubling than others, but all of them are serious. One of the most fascinating is with a wealthy man named Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran, pictured above), who lives in a well-appointed mansion in the country. He is a cynic with a flippant attitude about life; everyone in his immediate family has left him, his wife and children, even the maid. While other locals mock Father Lavelle for his religious beliefs and realize there is little he can do about their sins, this character is a rich man who is soulless; this subplot is McDonogh's commentary on recent Irish history, as bankers helped ruin the local economy, while gaining monetary wealth on their own. 

Moran is superb, bringing an undeniable charm to his role; he's a louse, but given Moran's style, you almost feel sorry for him. Indeed near the end of the film, he confesses to Father Lavelle that he has a real problem and he'd like to meet with the priest. The people of Ireland, McDonagh seems to say, are adrift and have little meaning in their lives, even those who do have a bit of money.

All of this is presented amidst the spectacularly beautiful coast of County Sligo; this is a rugged land of craggy hills and rock-strewn seasides. No doubt director of photography Larry Smith will receive kudos for these shots, but his work on the entire film deserves praise. The harsh lighting of a prison, the deep primal hues of a pub and the dark blues of the inside of a church are all memorable images that Smith handles with equal aplomb. Smith was also the director of photography on McDonagh's previous film The Guard (also starring Gleeson); he knows how to bring across the message of the director's outlook in visual terms; Smith is a lensman worth remembering.

Earlier I mentioned the quality performances of Reilly and Moran; indeed the entire cast is first-rate (a tip of the cap here to McDonagh's work with his actors as well as to casting director Jina Jay). Especially memorable are Aiden Gillen (pictured above), a doctor who revels in telling Father Lavelle about the grisly details of his work; Orla O'Rourke, a married woman who flaunts her infidelities to Lavelle and David Wilmot, who portrays Father Leary, a timid soul who is no match for the flamboyance of Father Lavelle.

It is Gleeson, of course, who must carry the burden of this film, both literally and figuratively and he turns in a remarkable performance. He must be a pillar of strength, dealing with the problems of the others that inhabit his world, all the while dealing with past demons; he confesses to having loved alcohol "too much" in previous times and that history will come back to haunt him in a critical scene in the film. Gleeson is a large man - I would guess he must be at least 250 pounds, so he physically towers above everyone else in this work, but he is able to find subtle irony and humor in his everyday doings; one can imagine that he couldn't survive unless he did. He's especially moving in two scenes with troubled women: one with a visitor whose husband was killed in an accident and the other in a lovely scene - one of the few "normal" encounters in this work - during a seaside walk with his daughter. The film works on many levels, but it couldn't be believed without Gleeson's dynamic turn.

While there are a few moments of droll humor, this is basically a troubling film of souls who wander about without any real meaning in their lives. But this is a hopeful film at heart; near the end of the story, Father Lavelle says, "I think forgiveness has been highly underrated." Forgiveness, McDonagh seems to be saying, is our only salvation in this life.