Wednesday 18 January 2017

our jim's back with a bang in afghanistan

Published 16/01/2010 | 05:00

After his Oscar heroics in the 1990s, Jim Sheridan has had a relatively quiet Noughties. But he returns to top form this month with a new film that may be in contention come Oscar time. Brothers, which is loosely based on a 2004 Danish film, stars Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal and could be compared to Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter. Gyllenhaal and Maguire play siblings whose lives turn out very differently.

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While Sam Cahill (Maguire) has settled down with his childhood sweetheart Grace and followed his rather austere father (played by Sam Shepard) into the US Marines, Tommy dabbled in drugs and served time in jail after trying and failing to hold up a bank.

As Tommy is released from prison, Sam is ordered away to Afghanistan, leaving Grace (Natalie Portman) to care for their two young daughters. And as Tommy grows closer to his nieces -- and Grace -- at home, Sam is captured by the Taliban and forced to make a horrific choice. But his problems really begin when he returns to the US and attempts to adjust to civilian life.

Maguire has already received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as the traumatised soldier, and both he and Gyllenhaal are in with a shout of Oscar nominations as well. And Sheridan's sombre, sober and utterly enthralling drama is among the best things he's done in a most distinguished film-making career.

It's a career that started late and shot him from obscurity to Hollywood's core at his first attempt. The facts of Jim Sheridan's inner-city childhood are pretty well known in this country. Born on February 6, 1949, he was raised in Seville Place off what is now Sheriff Street, and like his brother, Peter, the writer, developed an interest in the arts. Inspired by his father, a railway worker who also ran an amateur theatre, Jim grew up with hopes of becoming an actor, and by the mid-1970s he was heavily involved in Dublin's Project Arts Centre.

The project was, and remains, a vital training ground for young writers, directors and actors, and Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne were among the performers who graced its stage during Sheridan's time. Sheridan cut his dramatic teeth there, too, writing and directing plays, but Dublin, at that time, was not a place replete with possibilities and in 1981 he took the brave step of decamping to New York with his wife Fran and young daughters.

In his autobiographical 2002 film, In America, Sheridan gave an entertaining account of his struggle to gain a foothold in 1980s New York, as he juggled taxi-driving stints with theatre-directing at the Irish Arts Centre.

In 1987, he left the theatre to concentrate on developing an idea he had for a film. He took a short course in film at the New York University, and managed to raise the money to make a movie based on the story of disabled Dublin writer Christy Brown.

With a script co-written by Sheridan and Jim Connaughton, My Left Foot (1989) was the film where Daniel Day-Lewis fully revealed his extraordinary talents. His performance as the fiercely determined cerebral palsy sufferer was outstanding, and the film struck a chord with audiences across the world. It won Day-Lewis his first Oscar, along with Brenda Fricker as Best Supporting Actress, and the film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

It was some debut, and Sheridan would find raising funds a little easier from then on. In comparison to My Left Foot, The Field (1990) was a disappointment. Based on John B Keane's play about an insanely avaricious farmer, the film had an operatic but overblown tone that reminded one uncomfortably of Ryan's Daughter. Richard Harris chewed up most of the scenery he encountered, and while The Field had its fans in America, it was far from Sheridan's finest moment.

With his next film, Sheridan resumed his partnership with Day-Lewis and produced one of the best movies made about the Troubles. In In the Name of the Father (1993), Day-Lewis played Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four, a group of innocent Irishmen who were framed for the Guildford pub bombings in 1974.

Sheridan's film operated as a gripping thriller, and Pete Postlethwaite was outstanding as Conlon's father, Guiseppe. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards that year.

In 1996, Sheridan collaborated with Terry George on the screenplay for his acclaimed film about the 1981 Maze Prison hunger strikes, Every Mother's Son, and he and George then co-wrote a screenplay for Sheridan's next film, The Boxer (1997). Set in Belfast, The Boxer starred a mean, lean Day-Lewis as a former IRA man and boxer who tries to steer clear of trouble when he gets released from prison. The film was well received critically, and performed quite strongly in the US.

In 2002 he directed the charming and somewhat under-rated In America. Co-written by Jim and his daughters, Naomi and Kristen, the film was a sometimes hilarious account of an Irish family's adventures in 1980s New York. The Sheridans earned an Oscar nomination for their screenplay.

Sheridan surprised many with his next film, a necessarily violent crime drama starring Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson and based on his early life. Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005) experienced its fair share of criticism and controversy, but American critics praised Sheridan's direction and storytelling.

Along with former Project Arts colleague Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan is our most significant film-maker. He hasn't made a huge number of films, but those he has made tend to be of consistently high quality, so he must be doing something right.

pwhitington@independent.ie 'Brothers' is released nationwide on January 22

Irish Independent

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