On A Clear Day |
Icon Home Entertainment, DVD, 30 January, 2006
Director: Gaby Dellal
Actors: Peter Mullan, Billy Boyd
Features: PAL, Widescreen
List Price: £18.99
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What to do next?
When you're fiftyish and have just lost your job, what do you do next?
If you're Frank in "On A Clear Day," then you swim the English Channel, and confront some nasty personal demons. This wee, warm Scottish flick does a great job balancing out comedy and melancholy, with a bit of family strife thrown in. It's just a small-scale, sweet little film.
A Scottish shipyard is laying off workers, and Frank (Peter Mullan) suddenly finds himself without a job. His wife Joan (Brenda Blethyn) starts training to be a bus driver, and his relationship with his son Rob (Jamie Sives) remains chilly, as it has been ever since his other son's death. Frank becomes increasingly depressed and antsy, unsure what to do next.
But while on a "booze cruise" with his friends, inspiration strikes -- he'll swim the Channel. He keeps his plans a secret from his family, but allows Chinese-Scot Chan (Benedict Wong) to be his trainer, with his pals as moral support. But his secret alienates his wife and son even further, and as he faces the biggest swim of his life, Frank will have to overcome his worst, most haunting memories of the sea.
"One Clear Day" is basically a heartwarming little family dramedy, which avoids the usual cliches and schmaltz, even in scenes where it could have easily become goopy. It takes a pretty talented director to handle things like government layoffs and racism without being heavy-handed, or dealing with emotional trauma without being soppy about it.
The plot seems even more colourful against the grey skies and seas of Scotland -- there are sad flashbacks and some melancholy moments, but Dellal balances it out with kooky good-ol'-lads comedy, such as Danny joyously careening around on a tiny motoboat. And the dialogue is nothing short of hilarious, whether it's bawdy jokes or banter ("Shark. Thirty-five footer." "Fell off my bike. Two-wheeler!").
Mullan has a very challenging role -- his character has repressed his grief, and doesn't want to let anyone see his problems. So Frank is gruff, secretive, but has moments of unbridled delight. Blethyn and Sives round out the family beautifully, as Frank's loving wife and emotionally starved son -- the beach scene with the three of them is enchanting.
But the supporting cast is also great -- Jodhi May has a small, good role as Rob's wife, and Ron Cook and Sean McGinley are snappily solid as two of Frank's pals. And Billy Boyd simply steals every scene he's in, as the perpetually upbeat, charmingly troublesome Danny. But comedy isn't his only skill: his best scene would have to be when Danny sadly confesses that he's always wanted to be like Frank.
"On A Clear Day" is a sweet, small Scottish movie with plenty of heart and joking-around, and the ability to warm your heart without turning your stomach. Definitely worth swimming to.
"The lads are borrowing a boat to help Frank swim the Channel"
With all intents and purposes, On A Clear Day should be a terrific movie - the acting is strong, the direction is polished and the stark Glasgow, Dover, and Isle of Man landscapes also help toughen up the mood. Then why was my reaction to the movie so lukewarm? Perhaps it's because On A Clear Day is a retread of so much that has come before it.
Like a waterlogged and less persuasive iteration of The Full Monty, director Gaby Dellal's movie is another the tale of working-class heroes, the salt of the earth who lose their jobs but, by taking on a seemingly impracticable, even outlandish challenge, maintain their self-respect, and even get to squelch the ghosts of their past.
In this case, it's the - admittedly quite brilliant Peter Mullen - playing a retrenched ship builder who decides to swim the English Channel. At the same time he gets to tackle with estrangement with Rob, his adult son (Jamie Sives) and deal with issues of honesty with Joan his late middle-aged Scottish wife (Brenda Blethyn).
Frank (Mullen) just doesn't know what to do with himself after he gets laid off from the Glasgow shipbuilding company. Understandably upset Frank and his former colleagues spend their newly empty days facing the indignities of the employment offices, visiting bemused members of their extended families and swimming out their frustrations down at the city pool.
In fact, doing the daily laps becomes Frank's only source of consolation and with all this free time on his hands he decides at age fifty-five swimming the English Channel is a way to move on from his past. Frank is haunted by a tragedy involving a son he lost to the sea when the lad was seven and his relationship with his grown son Rob (Sives) is almost nonexistent, so Frank's decision to swim the Channel is a way of winning his heart back into the family.
The storyline is slight, almost textbook in its inexorableness and the film is riddled with cliché's. Also, Frank's aspiration - while no doubt admirable, doesn't make a lot of sense. If he wants to remake himself in the eyes of his family, he could hardly have chosen a more isolating pastime, and it is hardly going to help his family. It's also uncertain how he pays the bills while he spends every day at the pool. And why does he inexplicably lie to both his son and his wife?
Brenda Blethyn as Joan and Jamie Sives as Rob are both excellent in their supporting roles, but the subplots involving their characters seem tacked on, underwritten and ultimately rather trivial. All she wants is to learn to drive a bus. Of course, these are working-class people, but a movie needs a little more oomph than the dream of getting a bus license.
And likewise, Rob is supposed to be a stay-at-home dad - and the scenes where he's shown lovingly caring for his young twins - are indeed touching, but his conflict over not working is never really developed as well as it should be. Similarly, Frank's assortment of kooky, diffident friends are all served up as sort of stock stereotypes; of course they're loveable, but we've seen them all before in other similarly themed English films.
I guess the main reason to watch On A Clear Day is Peter Mullen's quite affecting and subtle performance as Frank. He's a crusty, sexy salt of the earth type, a man who has spent much of his life punching the clock with a time card. He's well and truly been imbued with the protestant work ethic and a kind of obstinate pride. Mullen delicately lets you see how Frank was able to push unhappy thoughts of his dead son from his mind as long as he was working, but with too much time on his hands, he is forced to confront these long buried emotions.
In the end, On A Clear day does attempt to make some pertinent social observations about following your dreams into late middle age, the effects of redundancy and unemployment, and the benefits of never giving up.
But the film does this in such a trite, corny and predicable way that certain scenes feel as though they have been padded out to the point of distraction, and it almost feels as though the film as a whole is threatening to swim away from you. Mike Leonard July 06.
true grit glasgow style
A great movie in the style of modern british cinema: calendar girls, last orders etc. Everything which hollywood is not: realistic, ironic, believable, touching. None of the actors will be known to the general public, but they act out of their socks. No "Robin Williams" overacting, just acting as if it were real life. The story is simple: a man loses his purpose when he loses his job. Then he sets himself a personal target to re-gain his self esteem. All the content is in the relationships of the characters and how they react to a grim and grinding situation.