There's nothing terribly wrong about "Evelyn", but the movie suffers from a lack of ambition. It's holiday fare that I couldn't help but feel as if I've seen before - a family is separated, a courtroom battle is fought, and the happy ending that anyone can probably see coming a mile away occurs. Directed by Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy", "Double Jeopardy"), the film stars Pierce Brosnan as Desmond Doyle, loving father of two sons and a daughter. During the holiday season, his wife decides to run off with another man. Early in the film, which takes place in 50's Ireland, the authorities get word of the fact that Desmond is a broke, rather alcholic single father, and take his children away.
The first half of the film is a so-so effort, following Desmond's attempts to break his daughter out of jail and clean up his act, with the help of a barmaid (Juliana Margulies, largely under-used). This first half moves along fairly well, even though the plot seems familiar - even though yes, this is based on a true story - and some of the characters don't seem terribly well-defined. The acting - especially by Brosnan and supporting efforts by Adian Quinn, Stephen Rea and Alan Bates - is what carries the interest over the predictable parts.
The film's second half is where "Evelyn" starts to get its act together, if never entirely. After failing to get his kids back even when he turns his financial situation around (an old law states that the mother must also sign papers - and in this case, she's nowhere to be found). Desmond hires a trio of lawyers (Bates, Rea and Quinn) and tries to take on the court in a battle that will become historical when it overturns some of the laws on the books at that time. That's basically interesting, but the way that Beresford handles it simply offers the bare basics. The fact that this story will have a happy ending is without question - it's just unfortunate that it never seems like the film isn't going to have a happy ending. There's little drama or tension from point A to B, and an attempt to add suspense by having the judges seem to be going negative, then saying "however" three or four times seems clumsy. I never felt the film fully illustrated what an enormous task it was to take on the court system at the time, either.
Its to Beresford's credit that much of the film does keep from being overly sappy, but when it does, it's too dry. When it does become sappy, it becomes overly so (particularly when Evelyn discusses how her recently deceased grandfather told her that the sun's rays are "guardian angels"). The film certainly wants to be feel-good and emotional (as a result, it always feels like it needs a bit more realistic grit, too), but it's a little too manipulative and the story feels underdeveloped (the film introduces Evelyn's brothers at the beginning and then essentially forgets about them).
Oh, but the acting. One of the few aspects of "Evelyn" that make it as successful as it is is the performances. Brosnan takes a fairly uncomplex character and turns it into something better, offering a performance that's sincere, moving and very enjoyable. Rea, Quinn and Bates do sometimes outshine Brosnan, but everyone's pretty good here, even with so-so material. The performances make it worthy of rental consideration for those seeking something in the genre. It certainly could have been better, though.
VIDEO: MGM presents "Evelyn" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a fair transfer; I suspect that some of the issues that I find with it are part of the film's cinematography. The picture lacks any depth, while sharpness and detail are inconsistent at best - some scenes look rather soft in comparison to others, while a thin layer of grain doesn't help matters, either. It really never appears very well-defined. Although the material certainly requires a rather subdued look, similar films (Andrew Dunn's cinematography on "Liam", for example) have been more visually interesting.
Aside from the softness and somewhat bothersome grain, there weren't too many other issues. The print didn't exhibit any major flaws, only a few minor specks. Edge enhancement wasn't noticed, but a few little traces of compression artifacts were. The film's color palette was rather subdued, although a brighter color showed through on occasion. Flesh tones remained accurate and natural.
SOUND: "Evelyn" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. As one might expect from the material, this is a largely subdued affair. The score, which is rather sappy at times, still does sound quite clear across the front soundstage. Surrounds largely go unused, aside from some very minor ambience in a scene or two. Dialogue remained crisp and clear, with even the accidents easily understood.
EXTRAS: While it didn't do much at the box office, MGM has still prepared quite a Special Edition for the film. The DVD's main features are two audio commentaries, one from director Bruce Beresford and one from actor/producer Pierce Brosnan and producer Beau St. Clair. Both tracks communicate the filmmaker's passion for the project quite well, but the Brosnan track is a bit more involving. Although surprisingly subdued, the actor still brings a lot to the table, discussing his involvement in the project, talking about the character, and sharing some stories from the set. He offers some good insights here and seems comfortable with the commentary process - I hope to hear more from him in the future.
Two documentaries - one about the story behind "Evelyn" and one a general "making of" run about 19 and 21 minutes, respectively. Both are worth viewing; the former does a good job giving more information about the historical background, while the latter is well-filmed and informative.
A trailer, photo gallery, recommendations and a soundtrack promo round out the supplemental section.
Final Thoughts: Those seeking a moving drama could do worse than "Evelyn". The picture offers fine performances, but the story lacks a depth it needed to be more involving and moving. MGM's DVD offers so-so audio/video quality, but lots of supplements. Recommended as a rental.