This week, to cheer up from my post-election blues, I decided to watch #21 on the ABA Top 25 list of great lawyer movies, a film about an innocent man and his father on trial for a pair of IRA bombings. What can I say? There aren’t that many lawyer comedies.
In the Name of the Father
1994 dir. Jim Sheridan
Daniel Day Lewis would make a great lawyer movie defense attorney. I can picture him, jaw clenched, fuming and righteous, as the judge tries to pressure him to take a deal both men know falls short of justice. He’d make a good, tree-shaking prosecutor, too. He’s just a really good actor, is what I’m saying. If he were in all of the lawyer movies I watch from here on out, I wouldn’t complain.
In “In the Name of the Father,” based on the true story of the Guildford Four, he plays Gerry Conlon, a man standing trial for a crime he didn’t commit. Gerry grew up on the streets of Belfast during the height of the IRA’s bloody clashes with the Queen’s government. He’s a bit of a troublemaker, but more rebel without a case than freedom fighter. As his father Giuseppe insists early on in the film, he’s not political. Still, the political conflict is woven into the fabric of his community. Children and grandparents alike help sound the alarm and run interference when the English soldiers come knocking on doors, and Gerry can’t help but be swept up in the chaos.
In almost every way, Gerry has fashioned himself in opposition to his father. Giuseppe is a quiet, honest man with a funny name who’s prone to illness. Gerry resents his dad’s weakness and virtue – he has no interest, initially, in being a good person. So, after a spot of trouble in Belfast, he moves to London to smoke dope and try to get laid. Everything goes as planned at first, until a fateful night when Gerry finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A bomber blows up a busy pub, and the police become convinced that he was behind the attack.
To make matters worse, it’s the wrong time to be in the wrong place at the wrong time: a new law has just been passed that allows anyone suspected of terrorism to be held for up to seven days without any lawyers present. Soon, Giuseppe is thrown in jail too, and father and son are reunited. The scene in which they first see each other in prison – both anguish and relief playing across their faces – is crushing.
“In the Name of the Father” is many things at once: a portrait of a horrible and fascinating political struggle; a gripping courtroom drama; a meditation on the right and wrong ways to live and respond to injustice; a polemic that furiously reminds us of the importance of due process; and, most of all, a tragic family saga. It works extremely well on all of these levels. I’m not saying it’s the GLMOAT… but it’s a contender.