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On a Clear Day Review

By Shawn McKenzie 05/28/2006

I’d say that I’m an admirer of those quirky yet heartwarming British movies that all end the same (which is happy), but even though On a Clear Day is like those movies, it is a little heavy-handed for my tastes.

Frank Redmond (Peter Mullan) is a 55-year-old Glasgow shipbuilder who has been made redundant (laid off) after 36 years.  Ironically, his last day is on the same day that a ship he had helped build takes off on its maiden voyage.  He has seen how others have handled the loss of their jobs, like co-worker Gus Fuller (Stevie Hannan), who purposely smashes his hand in a press to get worker’s compensation, or Eddie Fraser (Sean McGinley), who swallows his pride and takes a job as a janitor at the shipyard in order to collect a paycheck.  Since Frank is without a job for the first time in his life, he doesn’t know what to do with his time or how to get another job, so he hangs out with his mates.  Eddie is Frank’s pessimistic best friend; Danny Campbell (The Lord of the Rings’ Pippin, Billy Boyd) is a young man who was also made redundant, but isn’t so disheartened about it; and Norman (Ron Cook) is a nervous fellow who retired from the shipyard early.  Frank’s depression only complicates his already strained relationship with his devoted wife Joan (two-time Academy Award nominee Brenda Blethyn) and his estranged son Rob (Jamie Sives), who is a househusband with his wife Angela (Jodhi May), who happens to work at the employment office (makes Frank uncomfortable when he has to ask her for a job.)  Rob stays at home and raises his and Angela’s twin sons, Andrew (Andrew MacLennan) and James (James MacLennan), and Frank won’t admit that he thinks that because Rob doesn’t have a job, it makes him less of a man.  Frank is still feeling guilt over the death of his other son Stuart (Raf Fellner), who drowned when the boy and his brother Rob (Phillip Carse) were both 7 years old (they were twins as well), and he takes it out on the adult Rob.  Frank and his mates hang out at the local swimming pool, and one day, when they go on a “Booze Cruise,” Danny makes a comment that, on a clear day, someone could swim the English Channel.  A light bulb goes off in Frank’s head to do just that, because it will give him a purpose in life.  He asks fish-and-chips shop owner Chan (Benedict Wong) to train him, which surprises his mates, because they didn’t think that Chan could even talk.  Eventually, the men pitch in to support Frank, but they all agree to keep it secret from his wife and son.  Joan has a secret of her own though…she is training to be a double-decker bus driver (which is nice since they aren’t generating any income now…though it doesn’t appear that they are hurting for money.)  They start out using the speedboat owned by a guy named Merv the Perv (Tony Roper), a weird guy who has a S&M relationship with his wife Vera (Irene Ann Burt), but eventually they use a fishing boat owned by another eccentric named Mad Bob (Paul Ritter), in order to track Frank’s trek.  Eventually, Rob and Joan find out, and I think that they are more upset about the secrecy than over what Frank is attempting to do.  Either way, Frank’s mission inspires his mates to do things that they hadn’t had the guts to do before.  Eddie quits his demeaning job and asks out Joan’s friend Michelle (Anne Marie Timoney) out on a date, and Danny asks out a shop girl (Michelle Rodley) as well.  Chan tells off a racist deliveryman (Eric Barlow)…something he was too scared to do in the past.  When the big day comes, even frightened Norman supports him in his own way.  With thoughts of Stuart in his head and the inspiration of a determined mentally handicapped boy he had spotted back at the swimming pool, Frank takes off from the Isle of Man and attempts to swim the English Channel to France.

Gaby Dellal directed this drama using first-time screenwriter Alex Rose’s script.  She made good use out of the characters and the actors who played them, but Rose’s script can’t decide if it wants to be a comedy or a drama.  Unlike the British inspirational comedies of the past, such as 1997’s The Full Monty or 2003’s Calendar Girls, this movie is too serious to be a comedy, and it has too many goofy moments to be a drama.  With the death of Frank’s son Stuart and his strained relationship with his grown-up son Rob, this movie isn’t a laugh riot.  Boyd’s character Danny is too silly to be taken seriously (though he is one of the few chipper characters who amuses in this relatively depressing movie.)

I’m being too harsh though on the movie, because the acting is great.  Mullan does a great job here, and for a man who is supposedly 55 years old, he is in much better shape than men half his age (myself included.)  The distant relationship with Sives’ character Rob is believable.  Frank’s mates are a little clichéd, since we’ve seen variations of them in other British movies (I’m not going to go into them, because I think you know what I mean.)  The only character that is different, only because of his race, is Wong’s Chan.  It throws you off for a second to hear an Asian man speaking with a Scottish accent, but after a while, he becomes just like his other mates.

Since On a Clear Day is one of those inspirational movies, you know that it is going to end happy.  This might be a good one for fathers to take their grown sons to see.  I just wish that, on a clear day, I could figure out what type of movie it wants to be.

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