A powerful tale of a young Irish family struggling to make a fresh start in Manhattan, "In America" opens with Johnny and Sarah (Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton), along with their two young daughters, Christie (Sarah Bolger) and Ariel (Emma Bolger), coming across the border into America. They arrive with nothing but themselves, but they are determined to make it work and to finally move past the hurt and sorrow of the recent loss of one of their children.
The family moves into a broken down apartment, making rent by Sarah's job as a waitress at an ice cream parlor. Johnny's dreams of acting are not quite as easy to reach: although compliments are given, all he really gets is rejection. Eventually, he finds himself driving cabs at night while persuing his career. With the help of secretive neighbor Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), the family starts to find hope in their new life and from within each other.
The film doesn't have a great deal of plot, but it's more made up of beautiful, funny, sorrowful snippets woven together superbly. A scene where Johnny lugs an air conditioner up midtown Manhattan is a wonderfully memorable scene, showing the character's determination - especially given the fact that he's walking with it in the middle of the street, going against the traffic. A street carnival and the local ice cream shop are painted by director Jim Sheridan and cinematographer Declan Quinn in ideal, timeless brushstrokes.
"In America" is a rare film where familiarity with the genre doesn't work against it. The performances are excellent across the board and I found myself caring about the characters. The film does go through a lot of the expected "issues" (kids trying to find their place in a new school, paying bills, dealing with pregnancy), the picture shows hope without being far too unrealistic, earns emotions without being overly sentimental and creates a New York City that is haunting, beautiful and as full of rich personality on every street as NYC is really is. A very personal story (semi-autobiographical) for director Sheridan, "In America" is an exceptionally acted, very touching story that I think was one of 2003's best.
VIDEO: "In America" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 pan & scan by Fox. Although this is a perfectly fine transfer - maybe even a great one - I still wish that the disc had been entirely devoted to the widescreen presentation. The image quality of the widescreen edition is, in fact, pretty stellar - with a somewhat more pleasing image quality than what I saw theatrically last year. Sharpness and detail are largely excellent throughout the show - aside from a couple of slight instances of softness in dim interiors, the picture appeared crisp and well-defined.
The picture remained largely free of any considerable issues. Some very slight compression artifacts showed up once or twice, but the image remained free of edge enhancement or print flaws. Where the DVD presentation seemed to differ from the theatrical presentation is that I felt that the colors on the DVD seemed a bit more saturation, more vibrant than the cooler-looking theatrical presentation I viewed.
SOUND: "In America" is presented by Fox in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack really doesn't need to make much use of the surrounds, but a few moments - such as the family's first introduction to the city - put the rear speakers to decent use. Otherwise, the rear speakers remained silent. Audio quality is perfectly fine, with clean and clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director/writer/producer Jim Sheridan provides a superb audio commentary for the movie. A semi-autobiographical effort, the film was an important one for Sheridan and he goes through a lot of his stories about growing up during the track. He also talks about casting, filming in NYC, working with the actors and the inspirations behind some aspects of the film.
Also included are a very brief featurette and deleted scenes w/commentary from the director.
Final Thoughts: Powerfully acted, moving and often heartbreaking, "In America" is a lovely film that portrays the importance of family and hope wonderfully. Fox's DVD edition provides very good audio/video quality and a few solid extras. Highly recommended.