After 36 years at his shipyard job, Frank Redmond (Peter Mullan) has been dismissed, and left to stew in his own depression. With nothing to do but pay attention to his family (including Brenda Blethyn and Jamie Sives), Frank takes to the local pool to spend time with his friends and to meditate on his newly unemployed life. To test his mettle, Frank decides to swim across the English Channel, which both inspires those around him and reopens old emotional wounds within him that Frank has never let heal properly.
From the outside, "On a Clear Day" doesn't appear to offer anything different than the norm of weathered blue-collar workers joking, struggling, and living life in between pints of Europe's finest. The plot is pretty much standard Scottish offerings, but this time filtered through extraordinary acting talent and a dedication to small miracles, not loathsome audience-pleasing pandering.
"Clear Day" hinges on the lead performance from Peter Mullan, and the actor instills his character with an ideal level of detail. Mullan is simply one of the best actors working today (often cursed with awful scripts), and if a role requires internal rage and sorrow, he's the man for the job. The film doesn't ask Frank to mope about lamenting his current situation, but instead portrays the man in a shell shocked fog; not fully able to digest his employment status, fighting off panic attacks and fits of anger. Mullan shades the character brilliantly, underplaying melodrama whenever he can, and giving Frank a profound soul as he tries to conquer his fears and reestablish his relevancy with this monumental swim. Mullan can be a frightening guy (I won't sit too close to the screen when he's around), but he takes the concentrated wrath of natural power he has and gives Frank a multifaceted journey to illumination, carefully communicating the steadily blossoming soul inside.
Director Gabby Dellal has some difficulty maintaining the disapproving world around Frank, but he finds a rich center to "Clear Day" that keeps it far away from painful shiny-happy-people clichés (aka the "Full Monty" treatment). Dellal is more than willing to dole out heartwarming moments of triumph to his entire cast, but he also insists on humanity as a chaser. While stuffed with lovable characters, the film never hugs them. These are flawed folk just trying to succeed, and Dellal appreciates them on a realistic level without getting too heavy, but still addressing real world concerns about aging and grieving.
"On a Clear Day" doesn't contain a powder keg of a storytelling device, making it tough to be surprised over the outcome. The fish-n-chips reliability of the film is pleasing enough to suffice, but the attention to character detail is what will really pull you in.
For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com