DVD Release Date:  September 21, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  June 4, 2010 (limited)
Rating:  PG-13 (for some violence, sensuality and brief strong language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  111 min.
Director:  Neil Jordan
Actors:  Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Alison Barry, Stephen Rea, Tony Curran, Dervla Kirwan, Emil Hostina

Colin Farrell is on a roll. The Irish actor who earned a reputation for being a beer-drinking bad boy has turned in a number of outstanding performances since his most recent stab at becoming a mainstream leading man in director Michael Mann's Miami Vice in 2006.

Just when that misfire appeared—not long after the Oliver Stone mega-flop Alexander, and Terrence Malick's critically beloved but little seen The New World, both starring Farrell—he showed appealing vulnerability in Woody Allen's moral drama Cassandra's Dream, his best performance to date. He followed that by teaming with Brendan Gleeson for a memorable turn as a man in over his head in In Bruges. Last year he held his own in Crazy Heart against Jeff Bridges, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his part in that movie.


Farrell's recent films have all been smaller releases. Cassandra's Dream played on 107 theaters at its height, while In Bruges reached just 232 theaters. Crazy Heart's profile was raised by the Oscar attention, taking it into more than 1,300 theaters in its widest release, but it started in very limited release, at just four theaters.

His latest film, Ondine, shows Farrell's penchant for choosing roles in smaller films that showcase his strengths as an actor. Writer/director Neil Jordan's tale of personal healing and recovery is more art house than mainstream crowd-pleaser, although the film eventually develops a bit of an identity crisis. What appeared to be a sure-footed, imaginative tale becomes something harder and more of a genre exercise. Whether the tonal shift is a lazy fallback for the filmmakers or a bold stroke that redefines the film in provocative ways is for audiences to decide.

Syracuse (Farrell) is a fisherman with a broken marriage and a wheelchair-bound daughter with kidney problems. One day his net hauls in a woman (Alicja Bachleda) who calls herself Ondine, literally "from the sea." She has just one request: that she stay hidden from sight.

Syracuse's daughter, Annie (Alison Barry), insists that the mysterious woman is a sea creature called a selkie. Annie, increasingly confident that Ondine is the key to helping her overcome her medical condition, bones up on the mythology behind selkies, and informs Ondine that she knows all about her kind, wheeling and dealing to get Ondine to stay with her father, who's fallen hard for the buxom beauty. Annie insists that a ritual involving the burial of Ondine's "sea coat" will force her to stay on land for seven years—long enough for Annie to have a surrogate mother through adolescence and graduation, while her real mother (Dervla Kirwan) boozes it up across town with her male companion. However, someone other than Syracuse has his eye on Ondine, and his intentions appear sinister.

The film's leisurely pace accelerates as it heads toward its climax. The sudden suspense is jarring, but it serves to jolt Syracuse and Annie out of their fairy-tale existence and into something more dangerous. Viewers may feel unsettled by the shift, although the extent of the change is a reflection of how effective the film has been to that point. In addition to solid work from Farrell, Bachleda and Barry, Stephen Rea (the protagonist of Jordan's most famous—and infamous—film, The Crying Game) plays Syracuse's priest with a droll sense of humor and surprising comic timing. On the tech side, the exceptional cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Hero, Lady in the Water) does justice to the beautiful Ireland locations.

Ondine is not for all ages. The camera lingers a bit too appreciatively on Ondine herself, with several shots revealing more than needed to tell us what's obvious from the first time we see her—she's strikingly beautiful. Yet it's also a reminder that real life doesn't conform to the fairy tales we read as children, and that real-world complications intrude upon people of all different classes, ethnicities and genders.

Ondine is not an overtly theological film, but in its portrait of a physically and emotionally wounded people finding hope and healing, it raises thoughtful questions about the nature of belief, and how faith can help us overcome physical limitations. The focus of the characters for that overcoming is misplaced, but their longing for something good and permanent—whether it be marriage, companionship, or the restoration of a properly functioning body—points to something deeper than most films attempt. Those looking for answers to ultimate questions won't find them in this film, but those who understand the source of goodness and healing may enjoy how those things play out in Jordan's story.


Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; another term for "sh-t"; "f"-word.

  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: Depictions of drinking and smoking include a scene of child endangerment and the consequences of drunken driving.

  • Sex/Nudity: Kissing; several shots of Ondine in her underwear and bikini, including a shot of her changing, during which one of her breasts is briefly seen from the side; Ondine emerges from the water and her wet outfit reveals her nakedness underneath; lingering shot of Ondine's exposed legs as she steers a boat; two people are seen briefly having sex, then in bed talking afterward.

  • Violence/Crime: A scene of vomiting; a man strikes a woman; guns are pointed and sinister characters threaten other characters with violence.

  • Religion: Syracuse goes to confession because there is no Alcoholics Anonymous chapter in his area; a woman spreads a loved one's ashes in the water; Annie asks a priest about his past lives.