After a seven-year hiatus producing other filmmakers' projects, Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan (MY LEFT FOOT) returned to directing with this intimate portrait of a grief-stricken Irish family in New York City. Hoping to make a new start after the death of their young son from a brain tumor, aspiring actor Johnny Sullivan (Paddy Considine) and his wife, Sarah (Samantha Morton), pack up their two young daughters, Christy and Ariel (Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger), and move from Ireland to a pigeon-plagued apartment in a junkie-infested building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. They fix the place up as best they can, and while the neighborhood may not be the greatest place to raise kids, it's what they can (barely) afford. Unable to get a teaching position, Sarah waits tables at a nearby ice-cream parlor while Johnny goes on auditions; to help make ends meet, he starts driving a cab. The family eventually settles into big-city life, getting to know their neighbors — who include Cuban junkie Papo (Juan Hernandez) and a friendly hustler named Frank (Michael Sean Tighe) — but the specter of their son's death continues to haunt their lives. Sarah claims to have moved on for the sake of the girls, but much of the time she seems to be pretending. Johnny, meanwhile, has become a ghost, unable to feel much of anything. The Sullivans' unlikely salvation comes from a locked apartment on the floor below marked "Keep Away," from which the agonized screams of a mysterious stranger are often heard. The screamer turns out to be a tortured, fatally ill Caribbean artist named Mateo (Djimon Hounsou) who eventually befriends Christy and Ariel when they come trick-or-treating at his door. When Sarah discovers that she's pregnant and that the pregnancy will pose a serious risk to her life, Mateo becomes her spiritual guide. Often heavy-handed and clumsily written, the film is something of a departure for Sheridan, whose previous work has focused on families affected by the Troubles of his homeland. He seems a bit at sea in the multicultural stew of contemporary New York, and stumbles badly in his portrayal of the city's minorities, particularly Mateo. First a looming figure to be feared, he's later transformed into the noble black man who must be sacrificed so a white child and its family can survive. Nevertheless, the film is marvelously acted — the Bolger sisters are a delight — and Sheridan captures New York City's crazy energy as only a newcomer can.
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