Ode to Ultimate Irish Director, Storyteller Jim Sheridan

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HOLLYWOOD – What better way to wrap up a series of film columns on the Irish (earlier reading: part one; part two) than with an ode to the ultimate Irish storyteller? Dublin-born Jim Sheridan has brought some of the most influential Irish films to the big screen.

His writer-director ways paid off in spades when he was nominated for an Oscar at the age of 40 on his first film attempt, “My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown,” in 1989.

The mission of Rachel Faith – the Hollywood-based Silver Screen Indie Queen for HollywoodChicago.com – is to help avoid the “beige” film experience by providing easily accessible information on indie film, film festival favorites and must-see Hollywood classics. At the end of the day, it’s all about turning people onto new and different films using the Indie Queen’s film geekdom for good and not evil.

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It tells the story of Irish painter Christy Brown who was born with cerebral palsy. With the help and love from his strong-willed mother (Brenda Fricker), Brown trained himself to become an accomplished artist, writer and poet with only the use of – you guessed it – his left foot.

Though Sheridan didn’t take home the statue, he did help put himself – along with little-known actor at the time Daniel Day-Lewis – on the map. Both Day-Lewis and Fricker won Oscars for their performances.

“My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown” helped blaze the path onto his next film – “The Field” in 1990 – which starred Richard Harris. Harris also received an Oscar nomination for his performance as “Bull” McCabe.

However, this film was not as widely received. I personally didn’t care for it, but since I can’t get the damn thing out of my head, it certainly struck some sort of chord and was by no means a waste of time.

Writer, director, actor and producer Jim Sheridan
Writer and director Jim Sheridan on May 9, 2003.
Photo credit: Jeff Vespa, WireImage.com

I’m not alone in my indifference to this film as it did little for Sheridan except to secure his next project: “In the Name of the Father” in 1993.

Along with a badass soundtrack (with the likes of U2 and Sinead O’Connor), Sheridan brought another piece of Irish injustice to the big screen: the story of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven.

Daniel Day-Lewis (DDL) again joined forces with Sheridan and starred as slacker Gerry Conlin (whose only guilt was smokin’ a little too much dope and petty thievery). When his latest shenanigans prove to be the final straw for the IRA, his father steps in to send him to family in London.

Unfortunately, Gerry has a bad case of the “wrong place at the wrong time” and along with four others is picked up and coerced into confessing to an IRA bombing that none of them committed. Not only are the four thrown in jail but Gerry’s father, aunt and cousins are all tried and committed.

Though this film picked up seven Oscar nominations, still no dice. The tape is thin on my VHS copy due to my love of this film and I’m a serial “rewatcher” when it comes to the DDL.

The movie poster for the Jim Sheridan-directed film My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown
The movie poster for the Jim Sheridan-directed film “My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown”.
Image credit: IMDb

Though Sheridan wrote a bit during this “break,” he didn’t resurface until “The Boxer” in 1997. This is one of those films I get in arguments about all the time. I’m sticking to my guns and saying though it is a bit long – yes, I’m admitting it’s long! – it’s a fantastic story with stellar performances.

“The Boxer” is well worth the price of admission. With Emily Watson and the DDL in his third collaboration with Sheridan, it’s truly impossible for it to be bad by any means.

This brings us to my favorite and the film that inspired this column in the first place: “In America” (2002). The swooning starts whenever it’s brought up in conversation, which proves the amount of hearts the endeavor has touched.

Its writing collaboration by all the Sheridans (Jim wrote with daughters Naomi and Kirsten) proves perfection.

Paddy Considine plays Johnny: the father who’s determined to provide a better life for his family. His acting dances gracefully with Samantha Morton who in my opinion walks on water in her spare time.

Everyone from the kids (played by real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger) to the recluse and frightening-then-lovable neighbor Djimon Hounsou keep you entranced with their performances. You don’t just have tears in this flick. You break down and downright sob.

Then we have the shock that was heard around the world with “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” (2005). While this choice confused the hell out of everyone, legendary critic Roger Ebert stands his ground and confirms Sheridan’s ability to direct actors and create characters. Sheridan’s directing abilities were never in question as his way with actors proved to be successful and award worthy after all.

HollywoodChicago.com Hollywood correspondent Rachel Faith

Hollywood Correspondent

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