Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Emma Thompson in In the Name of the Father

Emma Thompson received her second/third Oscar nomination (she was also double nominated, for this performance and her Lead Performance in The Remains of the Day) for her performance as Gareth Peirce in Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father. The entire film is one giant bundle of powerful emotions and is a film that rushes into you and makes you want to scream at the screen in anger and frustration for the characters. That is about the highest compliment a film can be given, because when a film is so good that it makes you feel for the characters that powerfully, it validates the work of all involved. The story follows Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis, yet another double dipper appearing among this year's nominees) who is wrongly accused of bombing a pub in London and imprisoned alongside three innocent friends and his father (Pete Postlethwaite) for life. With the help of a passionate lawyer (Thompson), Conlon fights to prove his innocence and unveil the corruption  within the legal system of the United Kingdom.

What I admire so greatly about this performance is Thompson's bravery in playing her role subtly and straightforward. For the first 3/4th of the film, she is basically invisible, only getting a few brief shots without dialogue as she hears Jerry's explanation of everything that happened. When Gareth finally enters the film, she seems to be a real lawyer, and her few brief scenes have an air of sternness, frankness, and overall formality. Her meetings with Jerry and his father are realistic, and Thompson doesn't feel the need to be overly mean or expressive. You get a real client-lawyer relationship vibe from them that is realistic if nothing special. But as the film progresses, Thompson slowly begins to peel back the layers of informality that Gareth tries to maintain as an employee of these people and not a friend.

The first sign of brilliance that Thompson exhibits is a scene where she meets with the head of the police about getting early parole for Gerry's father. By playing it completely straight without allowing her character to get emotional and instead relying on tone and sly looks, the scene is one of the most powerful and telling in the film. Peirce knows that her clients are innocent, she has no doubt of this but through being crafty and almost pitying towards the head of police who also knows that he has done wrong is infinitely more powerful than if she were to scream at him in rage. She turns the simple question of "Is this you're family?" into a deliciously anger-inducing moment.

When the trial actually comes along and Gareth Peirce, who so far in the film has been the image of the stoic, emotionless lawyer we all expect them to be finally lets out all the rage and emotion she feels towards the entire legal system and that police chief specifically the effect is mesmerizing, powerful, and shocking. She doesn't overdo her passion but instead makes it feel like she is throwing away the shroud of detachment the character has had throughout the film in a glorious rush of anger and fury. However, in moments Thompson returns to being calm like it is nothing. It is that skill in which she can transition so convincingly between an easy going nature and a flood of emotion that makes this performance so astounding.

All in all, Emma Thompson delivers a performance that I greatly adore through her calm head about the character, and never feels like she needs to overact or over emote at any moment in the film. By keeping an even keel on Gareth's emotions, she knows that her climactic scene in In the Name of the Father benefits so much more. Sometimes her character can feel like a tool for the plot (her scenes in the file room didn't exactly allow Thompson much room to act), but she turns this stock character in one with surprising amounts of depth and realism. 4.5/5 Thelmas.

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