On a Clear Day

By  · Published on July 13th, 2006

Release Date: July 11th, 2006

Over the past few decades the money hungry mega studios of Hollywood have been thrusting feature after feature into our paths, all of which are made, as it seems, for the sole purpose of selling tickets and popcorn. Since the 1970s, which included releases like Jaws and Star Wars, we have become accustomed to what most critics call “The Event Film;” your standard holiday weekend release blockbuster. And for most Americans, these movies are what they associate with when they think about “good” movies. But most critics would disagree, saying that these films have become distended from the art form that was once looked at as bringing a compelling story to life on screen. And whether you agree that these event films can be considered art or not, the fact still remains that most American’s can be shrouded from seeing truly well made and moving films, or as I call them, modern works of art.

When I refer to a film as a work of art, I am talking about a film that is made to touch its audience with a great message, or display fantastic performances, or inspire us to think about our lives a little bit more. It is made for more than just money, but to impact people’s lives. The unfortunate part is that many of these films do not catch the mainstream popularity, and they are sentenced to finding their audience via a DVD release.

A perfect example is the Focus Features release On a Clear Day. It is the story of Frank, played by Peter Mullan (Braveheart, Trainspotting), a Glassgow shipbuilder who has had a life filled with loss. Years before he lost one of his two sons in a swimming incident at the beach, over the years he had lost any resemblance of a good relationship with his remaining son, and to top it all of he has just lost his job of 36 years. After the loss of his job Frank begins to lose his way, finding it very difficult to deal with his situation. He becomes more distended from his wife Joan, played by Brenda Blethyn, and despite the best efforts of his three best friends (Billy Boyd, Sean McGinley, and Ron Cook) Frank begins to slip into a state where everyone around him believes that he has suffered another loss, that he has lost his mind. But thanks to an off the cuff comment from one of his buddies, Frank realizes what he must do in order to bring back his sense of self worth, he must swim the dreaded English Channel! With his friends by his side, he begins his daily routine to prepare himself for the swim, hiding everything from his wife and son. He secretly trains, plans, and sets forth on a journey like no other. But in the end he finds that his swim is about more than just self esteem, and he realizes that in order to truly be happy, he must repair the broken bonds with those whom he loves the most.

The story is relatively simple, but it rings true very loudly with just about anyone who has experienced loss of distress in their lifetime. But the powerful message in this film comes from not only the story itself, but the performances delivered within it by some fantastic actors. Peter Mullan’s performance is the first performance of note; he gives the character of Frank a very conflicted, loving depth beneath a veneer of anger and frustration. His performance, above all things, carries the emotional weight of the film.

Another performance of note is that of Billy Boyd, whom you may remember from The Lord of the Rings (he played one of the hobbits.) His performance was surprisingly fresh and free-spirited. In the beginning of the film he lightens the moods with a casual sense of humor and some funny quips, but in the end he adds a fantastic sub-plot to the drama of Frank’s journey. For me his performance is what takes this film from being good to being very memorable.

The most memorable part of the film, though, is just the overall look and feel of the film. I credit this to some very intuitive directing from Gaby Dellal. The film is a very smooth and euphoric journey, with well a well paced story and some pretty impressive camera work that reveals enough about the environment around Frank to enhance the story significantly. As just a film, On a Clear Day is well worth a look. It is a great example of what movies can be if they are made for the sole purpose of telling a great story rather than just making a few bucks.

As a DVD release, on the other hand, this film is less than impressive. There are no special features whatsoever and no director commentary to speak of. As a fan of how a film comes to life, I yearn for such luxuries when I bring home a DVD. This one is disappointing, seeing as it was such a superb film. But despite the downfall in the production of the DVD, this one should still make it into your home somehow. Whether it be via Netflix or purchase, I would highly recommend you give this delightful story from across the pond a look.

Film Grade: A
Peter Mullan and Billy Boyd are fantastic in a film that is as true to life as it is emotionally compelling!

DVD Grade: D
Absolutely no extras make this one a tough recommendation, but the fact that it was a great film that did not get a huge turnout in theaters makes it worth at least a rental.

Technorati Tags: British, Film, Movie, English Channel, Swimming, Life Crisis, Depression, Job Loss

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)