2002 - PG - 94 Mins.
|Director: Bruce Beresford
|Producer: Michael Ohoven, Pierce Brosnan
|Written By: Paul Pender
|Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Stephen Rea, Julianna Margulies, Aidan Quinn, Sophie Vavassuer
|Review by: Marc Eastman
You may have seen a recent commercial for some dog-care product or other that includes the line “If you think about it, a dog’s teeth are like his hands”. There’s an odd ruse going on there that is similar to a problem with the movie ‘Evelyn’. It’s a curious little trick, because in saying ‘If you think about it...’, they’re hoping you won’t. If the commercial had simply come right out and said, ‘A dog’s teeth are like his hands’, you’d have perked right up (hopefully, and assuming you could care less), and denied it. Speaking in the vein of comparative anatomy, a dog’s PAWS are like his hands, and I don’t care what he carries around in his mouth. But, by stating the conclusion you would come to ‘if you did think about it’, they’re able to gloss over the comparison (for whatever they get out of it), knowing full well that you won’t bother to think about it (and it’s only a silly commercial anyway, so who cares?).
For reasons I cannot guess, ‘Evelyn’ goes a bit down this same road. As if afraid to simply say ‘this is an interesting story’, the film comes across as decidedly attempting to keep you from thinking about that by saying, ‘if you thought about it, you’d think this was an interesting story (so please don’t)’.
‘Evelyn’ is the true(ish) story of Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan). Set in Ireland in the early 50's, ‘Evelyn’ follows Desmond in his quest to get his children back. After his wife abandoned him, and disappeared altogether, the government ‘assesses’ his situation. Being that Desmond is unemployed, drinks a bit, and is lacking (apparently, according to government standards) in his supply of ready-to-hand women to help raise his children, the government takes his kids and puts them in some sort of Catholic kiddie-jail. Though Desmond straightens himself up, and finds gainful employment, it turns out the judge didn’t tell him about a little snag in the system. It seems that according to the law, even though Desmond would be eligible to get his children back now, they cannot be given back to him without the signature of both parents.
The struggle now begins, and Desmond must find lawyers who can be convinced to help him try and change the law, fighting with him to the highest court of the land. This is made more tricky because of the intertwining of the Catholic Church and the Irish government, and of course, the fact that the Church seems to like the rule just the way it is.
Where the movie goes the way of the above-described commercial is insofar as it relies so heavily on ‘bad guys’, instead of simply showing the struggle against the system that is interesting enough in its own right. Maybe it is more true to the actual story to have all these separate forces working against Desmond and the children, but I find it rather hard to believe, and it gives the movie a certain air of Lemony Snickett. It’s always fun to have a Catholic nun we can really wag our fingers at, but it isn’t necessary. We always want to dislike that dastardly lawyer sitting at the wrong table, but it’s difficult to swallow that he was truly this adamant against the cause, the father, and for goodness sake, the little girl. The case we’re examining, even considering it was fifty years ago (it wasn’t five-hundred years ago), is at the very least a little ludicrous. Finding not one person on the ‘wrong side’ who had something of a ‘Yes, it’s a bizarre rule, especially considering your case, but my hands are tied’ attitude, strikes me as the movie not daring to say that the thing is interesting in itself. It’s only interesting, only emotionally engaging, if we have some serious nogoodniks to focus on.
It’s a doubly unfortunate presentation, because the movie does have a lot going for it. Pierce Brosnan is quite good, shrugging off any star power (and his standard appeal to good-lookingness), and delivering a character that mixes the likable with the ‘average’. Part of our angle here is that Desmond, faults though he may have had, was certainly nothing remotely approaching an ‘Angela’s Ashes’ sort of father, even though that’s the way some apparently tried to make him out. Brosnan needs to put forward a Desmond that is ‘average’ and rather flawed, but also affable enough to handily deal with such attacks on his character (even in the face of having throttled a nun, and a more fun and surprising scene I haven’t seen in a while), and thus get the press and the people behind his cause.
There are also fine performances by the supporting cast. Juliana Margulies (in her first role since 'E.R.' that has merited bothering to figure out how to spell her name) plays the woman that enters Desmond’s life, and helps him straighten himself out, and does a better job than we’ve come to expect from her. Stephen Rea and Aidan Quinn add a bit of spice to the overall effect by aiding Desmond from the legal side of things.
Making the movie's ‘direction’ all the more curious, is that director Bruce Beresford obviously knows how to let a story be enough. ‘Tender Mercies’, ‘Crimes of the Heart’, and ‘Driving Miss Daisty’, sappy as they may be, are at least honestly sappy. Worse yet, ‘Evelyn’ displays his ability to draw emotion from the simple and the real, especially when focusing on developing Desmond.
In the end, ‘Evelyn’ is worth watching as a slightly above-average, well-played story about a man’s struggle to get his children back, but it could have been a lot more. It could have been a powerful, evocative force that simply wore us out in following this man’s life, and his inability to have any control over what should be so patently obvious. It had the acting, the direction, and the story (at the core) to do it, but it didn’t want us to look too closely at that story, preferring to shift our attention to laughably easy-to-dislike characters. It’s a true story, and the truth only suffers when it’s bullied. The story doesn’t need characters like ‘The Barrister’ as if the name described some comic-book nemesis, and there’s no need for so many people and things to be ‘bad’. Things are bad enough. It’s not a ‘bad’ law. It’s just a bad law.