Judge Daniel Kelly always brings a little mermaid pesticide when he goes fishing.
The truth is not what you know. It's what you believe.
Ondine brings together two of Ireland's most prominent cinematic talents, acclaimed director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) and Hollywood superstar Colin Farrell (Miami Vice). Presented as a subdued fairy tale for adults, the picture is a low-key success, charming viewers without ever blowing them away. The performances are sharp across the board and Jordan exploits the Irish scenery beautifully, the only major complaint against the picture being its uneven screenplay. Jordan's dialogue is on occasion marvelously astute and touching, but the central narrative is a little shaky and some of the subplots underdeveloped.
Facts of the Case
Whilst fishing off the coast of his local town, Syracuse (Colin Farrell) is shocked when amongst his haul he finds a young yet beautiful woman. Introducing herself as Ondine (Alicja Bachleda, Trade) she quickly takes a shine to Syracuse, but remains intensely wary of anybody else. Ondine quickly befriends Syracuse's precocious daughter Annie (Alison Barry in a stunningly good debut performance), who comes to the conclusion that her newfound acquaintance is a mystical beast sent from the ocean to help her struggling father. Ondine obliges such assumptions by apparently providing Syracuse with an extra dosage of luck on his shipping expeditions, his catch becoming larger whenever her ethereal beauty is present. However despite Ondine's majesty, she may also be bringing trouble to the little Irish community, as a selection of shady figures start appearing in the town seeking a disappeared young woman fitting her description.
>From the very start, Ondine displays a fixation with fairy tales, Jordan obviously using this picture to highlight the differences between sweet fantasy and bitter reality. The film slips in subplots concerning organ failure and alcoholism, which alongside its rather gritty finale make for a picture not afraid to deal with some of life's grander problems. Most of these individual facets aren't adequately explored in Jordan's so-so script, but as a whole they do combine to mark a subtle contrast between the harshness of the real world and the relief that accompanies pure imagination and hope. As a result the narrative in Ondine suffers, but the underlying idea is one that should both interest and excite viewers.
Farrell does good work as the browbeaten Syracuse, combining an earnest likeability with a deep shame concerning his booze soaked past. The actor moves away from his traditionally more debonair and hunky image here, transforming into a man tormented by his demons, but truly devoted to his exceptional daughter. The budding relationship that slowly unfolds throughout the picture between Syracuse and Ondine is never unrealistic or sickly sweet; instead it is tender, Jordan and the actors nurturing it with skill and integrity. Farrell and Bachleda are restrained but affecting when placed together, selling the central romance marvelously. The highlight of the movie is debatably young Alison Barry, who brings a delicate strength to her role as Syracuse's sickly offspring, realizing a powerful connection with Farrell during the course of the production. For a child actor Barry brings an unbelievable amount of pathos to her role, showing an artistic maturity far beyond her limited years.
The music and visuals are haunting yet beautiful, the lush Irish countryside captured amidst an atmospheric and authentic mist. Despite deficiencies in the plotting and an overly relaxed pace (Ondine could stand to lose 10 minutes) the picture offers a genuine charm and sense of whimsy, Jordan avoiding saccharine material with the diligence of an expert storyteller. The central plotline moves maybe a little sluggishly for its own good, and supporting narrative threads don't fully convince (Annie's mother's own alcoholism and Syracuse's relationship with a local priest are good examples), but at least Ondine feels naturalistic, distancing itself from artifice or Hollywood clichés.
The DVD looks excellent, capturing the locations with a crisp transfer, the image sprightly and loaded with detail. The sound design on this disc isn't as good, the dialogue feels a little quiet in contrast to the pleasant musical score. In terms of extra content consumers are treated to only two minor making off features, both containing too many floating heads and too much backslapping. A commentary from Jordan would have been a very intriguing listen, but sadly all viewers have are these slight featurettes, which when combined run for only around 14 minutes.
Ondine is a perfectly ample watch, and would undoubtedly make for a good family rental. The PG-13 rating is probably appropriate given a few brief instances of sexual intercourse and alcohol abuse, but overall the film exhibits a solid selection of morals and is reasonably entertaining.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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