Waking Ned Devine (Waking Ned)


David Kelly doesn't like his wardrobe.

David Kelly doesn’t like his wardrobe.

(1998) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Fionnula Flanagan, James Nesbitt, Susan Lynch, Maura O’Malley, Eileen Dromey, Brendan Dempsey, Paul Vaughan (voice), Adrian Robinson, Robert Hickey, Paddy Ward, James Ryland, Fintan McKeown, Kitty Fitzgerald, Dermot Kerrigan, Jimmy Keogh, Matthew Devitt, Rennie Campbell. Directed by Kirk Jones

Once in a while, movies come in from left field that are sweet, gentle, and good-natured. They make the viewer feel like he or she has become, for two hours, part of a family or a community. These movies generally look at the foibles of life with a little bit of a wink and a wry smile. There is a sense of reality about them, or at least reality as we wish it were.

Movies like that are worth seeking out and embracing with both arms. Waking Ned Devine is such a movie. With the Isle of Man subbing for Ireland, the movie engenders such a feeling of warmth you’ll swear you’ve had a drop of the most heavenly whiskey west of the Emerald Isle.

Aging roustabout Jackie O’Shea (Bannen) has discovered that someone in the tiny town of Tulaigh Morh (i.e. Tullymore) has won the jackpot in the Irish lotto. He, his best friend Michael O’Sullivan (Kelly) and his long-suffering wife Annie (Flanagan) set out to ingratiate themselves amongst the townsfolk to find out who the lucky winner is.

And a charming lot the townsfolk are, for the most part. There’s Finn (Nesbitt), a pig farmer who has a deep, abiding love for the lovely poet Maggie (Lynch) who returns his love, only she can’t stand the smell of him. There’s the amorous store clerk, Mrs. Kennedy (O’Malley), and certainly not least, there’s the vicious Lizzie Quinn (Dromey), a mean-spirited cross between Lizzie Borden and the Wicked Witch of the West, only less friendly. She’s the type of woman who rides a wheelchair not because she’s disabled, but because she likes rolling over other people’s feet.

Jackie, Michael and Annie rule out the townsfolk one by one until they figure out who it is: Ned Devine (Keogh), a fisherman who lives in the remotest section of town. Trouble is, when they go to visit Ned, they discover that the shock of the lottery win has stopped his heart.

Therefore, the three perpetrate a bit of a scam; to convince Jim Kelly, the representative of the Irish Lottery (Dempsey) that Jackie is Ned Devine, and claim the winnings for themselves. Unfortunately, the early arrival of Kelly (signaled by the unmistakable sound of the poor man’s hay fever) puts their plans in a tizzy and the less, ummmmmmm, untruthful Michael is forced to assume the role of Ned. However, when Kelly explains that he has to verify Ned Devine’s identity with the townsfolk, and that the amount of the jackpot is several MILLION pounds instead of a few hundred thousand as they expected, they must involve the entire town. Some are willing than others.

The acting is so good you can’t tell that anyone is acting. These all seem like real people who have wonderfully rich lives. Every character has character, and there’s a sweetness about the movie that hits every charm button you may have. It’s a shame that Bannen passed away in a traffic accident a year after the release of this movie; he makes the most charming rogue that I have seen onscreen since Darby O’Gill.

The term “feel-good movie” is tossed about in reviews and on daytime shows without regard, but this film defines it. The movie not only feels good, it makes YOU feel good about watching it. It’s the kind of movie you won’t be able to avoid telling your friends about, and it’s one you’ll almost certainly want to own once you’ve seen it. If you need a pick-me-up after the world has kicked you around some, Waking Ned Devine is tonic for the troops.

WHY RENT THIS: As Irish as a pint of Guinness. Makes you feel toasty-warm inside.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very dry sense of humor.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some nudity, a bit o’ foul language and some mature thematic elements.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: UK and European distributors shortened the title to Waking Ned because they felt it was snappier and more user friendly. The US and Canada were the only territories to keep the original working script title.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $55.3M on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brigadoon

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: The Legend of Hercules

The Way


The Way

Sometimes the little things we encounter in our journey have the most profound effect along the way.

(2011) Drama (ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Yorick von Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez, Tcheky Karyo, Spencer Garrett, Angelina Molina, Carlos Leal, Antonio Gil, Simon Andreu, David Alexanian, Eusebio Lazaro. Directed by Emilio Estevez

It is a popular aphorism to make life a journey along a road that makes many twists and turns, making it often impossible to see what lies on the horizon. It’s not the destination that matters so much as the journey itself and sometimes, just getting out the door and out on the road.

Tom (Sheen) is a successful ophthalmologist living in Ventura, just north of Los Angeles on the Pacific coast. He is a widower whose relationship with his only son Daniel (Estevez) is rocky; Tom has trouble understanding his son who seems so very different than himself. He drives his son to the airport; Daniel has quit his doctoral thesis in cultural anthropology because he has gotten frustrated with learning about things and has decided to take some time to experience them directly. He goes to Europe, which his father makes clear he doesn’t approve of.

Shortly thereafter Tom gets a call that his son has died in Europe while hiking in the Pyrenees. Devastated, Tom goes to France to retrieve the body of his son. A sympathetic gendarme (Karyo) accompanies Tom to the morgue to identify his son’s body and gives him Daniel’s possessions. As Tom goes through them he realizes he really didn’t know his son at all.

It turns out that Daniel’s intention had been to walk the Camino de Santiago – the Way of Saint James. It is a pilgrimage that has been going on for more than a thousand years with pilgrims walking from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Tom, raised Catholic but not actively practicing, decides to complete the pilgrimage with his son’s ashes, stopping to leave a little bit of his son’s remains at various places on the route.

Along the way he meets a variety of people – a jovial Dutchman named Joost (Von Wageningen) who is walking the route to lose weight but can’t stop eating and drinking the delicacies of Spain; Sarah (Unger), a Canadian with a chip on her shoulder who is out on the Camino to quit smoking (which she intends to do when she reaches the terminus at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela) and Jack (Nesbitt), a garrulous travel writer from Ireland suffering from writer’s block and an excess of bonhomie.

Tom doesn’t really want the company; he’s a private individual who wants to grieve on his own terms. However he can’t help but open up to his travel companions and along the way, not only is there magnificent scenery but he meets a variety of people – from a kindly American priest making his pilgrimage to a group of generous Basques in Roncesvalles to a Gypsy father in Burgos. And the question becomes – is he taking this trip to honor his son, or for reasons he can’t begin to imagine?

This is a movie I expected to like but not as much as I did. Being a lapsed Catholic myself, I’m familiar with the Camino de Santiago and its importance particularly to Spanish Catholics. The remains of the Apostle St. James are supposedly beneath the Cathedral and all along the Way are stops of significance both historical and religious. There is something thrilling about seeing what pilgrims from centuries ago also saw. We are taken along on this journey and it is a road trip of a lifetime.

Sheen, brilliant for so many years on “The West Wing,” continues to show why he is one of America’s most underrated actors and has been for a very long time. There is an honesty, an authenticity to his performance. It’s very subtle and understated and not at all the kind of performance that attracts Oscar’s notice, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an amazing piece of acting.

There are some very wrenching moments. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child – even if he is an adult – and I hope I never have to. Given what the family was going through as this was being filmed (yes, it was when Charlie Sheen was the center of media attention), it makes me wonder how Sheen and Estevez could muster up the concentration to do their jobs as well as they do here.

This had a powerful effect on me, not just for the obvious reasons of confronting grief or my Catholic upbringing but also because it is about some of our most fundamental values and how they serve us – or don’t – in times of crisis. This isn’t preachy in the least and those thinking that this is all about converting you to the Catholic way, think again – the Catholics haven’t particularly embraced this movie, at least not officially. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a spiritual element to it, particularly on a humanist level. This isn’t a movie about religious denominations, but what drives us as human beings and what is important in life.

This isn’t revelatory in the sense that you’re going to learn anything new about life, but it does give you the opportunity for personal insight. You may not necessarily be motivated to convert to Catholicism but you might very well be motivated to start walking yourself. The Way is the biggest surprise so far in 2011 and may well wind up being the best movie this year.

REASONS TO GO: A film that is both uplifting and deals honestly with grief and reaching out. Gorgeous cinematography.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too slow-paced for some.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some thematic elements that might be a little much for the younger or more impressionable set, as well as a few bad words sprinkled here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The inspiration for the film came from a pilgrimage Sheen made with his grandson Taylor Estevez several years ago. Estevez met someone and fell in love on the pilgrimage and elected to remain in Spain.

HOME OR THEATER: At this point it will be difficult to find in a theater but if it’s playing near you, by all means make an effort to see it.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: The Secret in Their Eyes

Five Minutes of Heaven


Five Minutes of Heaven

You never know who's on the other side of that door.

(IFC) Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt, Anamaria Marinca, Juliet Crawford, Niamh Cusack, Richard Dormer, Jonathan Harden. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

Violence is a tool that our species likes to use to resolve conflict. Rationally, we know that it solves nothing and only leads to more violence. However, nobody ever accused the human race of being intelligent.

On a cold day in 1975, 17-year-old Alistair Little, a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force, shot 19-year-old Catholic worker Jim Griffin in the head through the front window of the Griffin home as he watched TV, killing him. Jim’s 11-year-old brother witnessed the crime; had Little known that he was related to the young man he’d just murdered, he’d have shot him too.

33 years later, a documentary program wants the two men to meet and reconcile on live television. Little (Neeson), who’d served 12 years in prison for his crimes, had come out a changed man, working with people in war zones on conflict resolution, trying to teach people to solve their issues without violence and stop the cycle he watched tear his country apart.

Griffin (Nesbitt) has never fully recovered from the incident. His mother blamed him for not stopping the murder of his brother; Joe for his part isn’t sure she’s not right. Married and with two daughters of his own, he is a broken man – oh, he’s normal enough on the outside, but his demons torture him on the inside, turning him into a man who endlessly fidgets, tormented by things only he can see.

You see, Joe’s reason for going on the program is more simple and direct than reconciliation. He intends to kill the man who murdered his brother on live television. He’s brought a knife with him for that very purpose.

The murder of Jim Griffin actually took place as described, and both Joe Griffin and Alistair Little were participants as described. The documentary show is complete fiction; the two men have not met and it is unlikely they ever will. They both consulted with the filmmakers on the script, however.

You would think that both the reality and the fictional situation would make for compelling drama, but German director Hirschbiegel (Downfall) and screenwriter Guy Hibbert don’t deliver. The script is a talky one, with the two men not meeting until the final scenes. Much of the exposition is done through flashbacks and dialogue between the two men and the chauffeurs driving them to the television taping. That makes for some lifeless cinema.

The movie is redeemed by the performances of the two leading men, and they couldn’t be more disparate. Neeson’s Alistair is dead-eyed and drained, something vital inside him killed by the same act that tore apart the Griffin family. Alistair had been gung ho to make his mark on the Troubles, never realizing what the consequences would be of that act to his life. Alistair has had to live with those consequences, and the price is terrible indeed. 

Nesbitt gives us a Joe who is so filled with rage he can’t sit still. He masks his pain with one-liners and bonhomie, but the anger surfaces in subtle ways, especially now that the murder is much on his mind with the television program bringing it all back. He is obsessed with vengeance, equating it with justice.

The movie’s denouement is a bit of a letdown, but once again it is saved by the powerful performances of Nesbitt and Neeson. I would have preferred a movie that wasn’t so static and had a bit more juice to it, and considering the subject matter I think it would have naturally occurred. It’s a shame, because the actors and the concept deserved a better movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Nesbitt and Neeson deliver terrific performances. The concept is a compelling one.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is very talky, with much of the exposition coming from conversations between the two principals and their drivers.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a brutal, bloody murder early on, and plenty of foul language throughout. The subject matter is complex enough that I’d warn away the little ones.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally broadcast on BBC2 on April 5, 2009 before being given a theatrical release in the United States.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: My Sister’s Keeper