Runtime: 2 hr 25 min
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Alan Parker
Starring: Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens, Michael Legge, Ronnie Masterson
The story has just enough humorous overtones to make it bearable.
Review by: SteveRhodes
Added: 8 years ago
ANGELA'S ASHES opens with the bitterly sad death of a 2-day old baby girl. She was to be the first girl in a family with 4 young boys. Her death will be far from the last in this true, tragic tale, set mainly in an inhospitable Ireland in the 1930's and 1940's.
Based on Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography, the story has just enough humorous overtones to make it bearable. Andrew Bennett's richly melodious narration injects so much honest humor that you'll likely view the movie with dry but sympathetic eyes.
"When I look back on my childhood," the narrator tells us, "I wonder how my brothers and I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."
The star of the production is poverty itself. Not the genteel brand we usually encounter in movies, but an abject poverty so intense that Frank licks the newspaper that once held his friend's fish and chips. Frank's family tears down a wall of their apartment one cold winter in order to have fuel for the fire. All 6 members of the McCourt family sleep in the same bed, which is subject to attack by fleas. And the kids live in filth and muck, although the parents manage to stay fairly clean. This level of destitution, malnutrition and misery makes typical cinematic poverty look downright luxurious in comparison.
Poverty's strong supporting cast includes Emily Watson (HILARY AND JACKIE), as Angela, the mother, and Robert Carlyle (THE FULL MONTY), as the dad. In a limited role that offers few opportunities, Watson is called upon just to endure. And endure she does with all the resoluteness she can muster. Watson does it so well that she will likely get her third Oscar nomination.
Carlyle is given the juiciest part, as her dipsomaniac husband, who is unemployed and unemployable. Even if their latest baby is starving, there's no food in the house and no coal for the fire, he'll head to the pub and drink up their last penny. The most amazing part of his role is that it's a sympathetic one. We sympathize with the father's weaknesses while, at the same time, we hate him for it. And the bond between Frank and his dad is genuine and touching.
Picture postcard Ireland makes few guest appearances in the film, which has more in common with FANTASIA's Sorcerer's Apprentice segment than a travelogue. Director Alan Parker (EVITA) shows the country at its wettest and poorest. Torrential rains fall constantly on the dilapidated buildings. Michael Seresin's fascinating cinematography looks like the film stock was developed in the streets' dirty rainwater, which perfectly reflects the mood of the story. John Williams delivers a dramatic score that's a bit over the top at times, but fits in with the dramatic bleakness of the storyline.
As he ages, Frank is played by a succession of actors (Joseph Breen, Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge). Each is so well cast that it's hard to choose a favorite. All of them portray Frank's chief trait -- he's a survivor. No matter how hard it gets, Frank finds a way to cope.
Far from a perfect film, the script by Laura Jones and the director, tries to pack in too much material and too many incidents. The director lets his movie drift when it should be kept more tightly focused, and the final cut of the film is easily a half hour too long. Still, it possesses an impeccable honesty and humanity that speaks to our hearts and our minds.
ANGELA'S ASHES runs 2:25. It is rated R for some profanity, nudity, sexuality and violence and would be fine for most teenagers.