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The Independent Critic

Peter Mullan, Brenda Blethyn, Ron Cook, Billy Boyd, Benedict Wong
Gaby Dellal
Alex Rose
Rated PG-13
98 Mins.
Focus Features
 "On a Clear Day" Review 
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"On a Clear Day" is a simple film that got largely overlooked during its brief arthouse circuit run this past April.

The film stars Peter Mullan ("Miss Julie" and "The Magdalene Sisters") as Frank, a lifelong boatyard worker whose unexpected lay-off forces him to deal with unresolved grief over the drowning death of his son years earlier and life in a family he's largely ignored by working 12 hours a day, five days a week.

After an anxiety attack finds him being treated for depression, the avid swimmer Frank comes up with the inane plan to swim the English Channel.

In the hands of an average cast, "On a Clear Day" would be merely an average, inspirational movie of the week. With the remarkable Mullan in the lead, Brenda Blethyn as his wife and a remarkable supporting cast, "On a Clear Day" transcends its rather predictable storyline to create a heartfelt, incredibly movie story of a man coming to terms with the life he lives, the choices he's made and the dreams he continues to chase.

Mullan is spot-on perfect as Frank, a man who tries hard to wear a mask publicly of pride and normalcy. The truth is, however, Frank is a man who blames himself for his son's death and who finds himself unable to deal with life when he finally has to do so. It would have been an easy choice to plummet Frank into a deep, devastating and anti-social depression, however, Mullan wisely takes a more subtle, realistic route in showing a man whose uncomfortable humor often hides the true feelings inside.

As his wife, Brenda Blethyn offers yet another marvelous performance in what could have been quite the thankless role. As a woman whose own dreams are just coming into fruition as she decides to follow her own dream of learning how to drive a city bus, Blethyn's portrayal of Joan is simultaneously strong and yet amazingly vulnerable. In particular, a scene in which Blethyn and Mullan are having dinner when Blethyn confronts him on the previously undisclosed plans for the swim is filled with simple, yet vivid images and rich, authentic emotions.

Frank finds himself supported by a rather motley crew of friends, including the likes of Chan (Benedict Wong), Norman (Ron Cook, Eddie (Sean McGinley), and the slightly jealous Danny (Billy Boyd). While the character development is a tad weak, each actor does do a nice job in their own right of developing characters who seem right at home in Frank's life. Quirky? Absolutely, but it's easy to understand why Frank values them so much AND why they are so loyal to Frank's dream.

"On a Clear Day" will play better, I believe, for those who can identify with its themes of loss, friendship and searching for hope and redemption. The ending, while a tad "feel good" is also appropriately shaped so that it transcends emotional manipulation and achieves emotional resonance.

The film's score is remarkably subtle, as well, which allows the audience to simply be an observer in the drama instead of forcibly drawn into it.

The cinematography of David Johnson complements Gaby Dellal's direction nicely. While Blethyn's frumpy costumes initially bothered me, I found myself resonating well with her changes throughout the course of the film. Likewise, while the use of flashbacks can often been cheap and manipulative, Dellal's use here advances the story nicely and provides needed character exposition. Dellal, unexpectedly, also uses a couple physically challenged actors whose presence also balances nicely with Mullan's and advances rather than manipulates the story.

"On a Clear Day" captured the BAFTA Scotland Award for "Best Film," and is a great view for those who can appreciate simple film-making that is both "feel good" and authentic. Thanks to its stellar cast, "On a Clear Day" is a film of tremendous vision and beauty.
© Written by Richard Propes

The Independent Critic