Combustible Celluloid
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With: Peter Mullan, Brenda Blethyn, Billy Boyd, Ron Cook, Sean McGinley, Jamie Sives, Benedict Wong, Jodhi May
Written by: Alex Rose
Directed by: Gaby Dellal
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language
Running Time: 99
Date: 03/18/2013

On a Clear Day (2006)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Channel Changing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Yet another entry in the Full Monty chain, but less antiseptic or precious than the recent Kinky Boots, Gaby Dellal's On a Clear Day tells the story of a recently laid-off Glasgow factory worker, Frank Redmond (Peter Mullan), who decides to swim the English Channel.

An unpredictable, explosive actor (My Name Is Joe) and director (The Magdalene Sisters) known for his intense work, Mullan goes slumming with this soft material. His Frank is supposed to be so emotionally withheld that he is unable to connect with his grown son, a house-husband, Rob (Jamie Sives), whom Frank considers "unmanly." Yet, at the same time, Frank carries with him a picture of his two sons -- one of which died as a child. Mullan does as well as could be expected vacillating between these "open" and "closed" character traits.

Of course, who better to train Frank than a spiritually centered Asian man, a local fish-and-chip shop owner, Chan (Benedict Wong)? As they train, Frank begins to inspire those around him. His former co-workers -- a batch of easily-defined goofy sidekicks -- find inner strength, while Frank's wife (Brenda Blethyn) persists in trying to pass her bus driver's license test. And even Chan finds the courage to stand up to the burly deliveryman who dumps his weekly potatoes on the floor. But since all the characters only react in terms of Frank's actions, none of them ever move beyond a rough sketch.

Director Dellal never forgets to mine the working-class charm that drives these films and makes them quaint in the eyes of middle-class American audiences; we like the fact that they never give up. Dellal also captures the grimy, chilly grayness of Glasgow. The damp seeps into the film's fabric, giving it a bit of life. (Kinky Boots polished its locations so clean that London and Northhampton became indistinguishable.)

The swim itself climaxes the film, and Dellal captures the sheer exhausting physicality without turning it into a Rocky-type athletic triumph. But the ultimate goal, whether spiritual or physical, is undercut by the film's feeble willingness to take all the easy short cuts.

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