Movies like this one make Appellate Judge James A. Stewart want to christen "amiable" as an official genre.
"How mad would you have to be to swim this?"
Frank Redmond (Peter Mullan, Trainspotting, Braveheart) is talking about swimming a 20-mile-wide stretch of the English Channel over to France. His mates aren't quite as enthusiastic, since they wind up barfing just crossing the stretch by boat.
Most people would find the act of athleticism that Frank is contemplating a little odd. Yet the Channel swim is not only a sane act, but one that will ultimately preserve his sanity through a rough time, since the hardworking Glaswegian has just been "made redundant" after 26 years of long hours.
While a goal like this would normally take two years of training, Frank hopes to do it in an intense six months. He's helped by his buddies, led by Chan (Benedict Wong, Dirty Pretty Things), who runs the local fish-and-chips shop, and given comic relief by Danny (Billy Boyd, Pippin in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy). He's not telling his wife Joan (Brenda Blethyn, Pride & Prejudice, Alas Smith and Jones), but she's got a secret goal of her own: she's learning to drive a double-decker bus.
Adding some dramatic tension, as if redundancy wasn't enough, Frank still hasn't gotten over the drowning death of his young son. He's also trying to heal his estranged relationship with son Rob (Jamie Sives, The Knickerman); it seems Frank's not happy that Rob chose to stay home to raise his two boys while his wife went to work.
As you can tell, On a Clear Day adheres to a familiar "heartwarming" British formula as Frank takes on an unlikely task, accompanied by a group of friends who become more confident themselves through his quest, and irons out his personal life as well. At the outset, it doesn't seem too promising, mainly because Director Gaby Dellal presents too many strands of story too fast. Once viewers get to know Frank and his friends a little bit, the movie takes on a sort of amiable charm. Though there are some good exchanges ("We're the delegation." "The delegation?" "It's a kind of a gang."), the movie isn't one for broad laughs, carried instead by the likeable performances. It delivers the happy ending—with a small wrinkle—that you'd expect.
Peter Mullan as Frank creates a portrait of a dedicated worker under strain well, showing us his inner workings with small touches such as the expression of pure contentment he has after plunging into the icy water fully dressed or the hint of nerves as he adjusts his goggles. With the Glaswegian accents, you lose a line of dialogue here and there, but it's not so bad that you'll need subtitles.
The direction, transfer, and sound are solid, drawing little attention to themselves as they tell the story.
My main complaint with the movie is that, though the movie shows flashbacks of Frank's son drowning years ago, the movie doesn't discuss it much. Perhaps the awkwardness with which this plot point is handled is a bit too much like life.
How mad would you have to be to rent this? Since I found myself rooting for Frank on his quests, I'll find it not guilty. I've seen better films in the amiable genre (such as Captain Jack, which I discussed in a previous review), but On a Clear Day is no washout.
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