Vital Signs

Sinners into Saints

In the Name of the Father
Produced and directed by Jim Sheridan
Screenplay by Terry George and Jim Sheridan
Based on the autobiography of Gerry Conlon
Released by Universal Pictures

Franz Kafka was right about metamorphoses. The usual direction is from the human condition to something lower, the cockroach or whatever insect it was that Gregor Samsa became. Movies, though, are a popular art, depend on mass audiences, and, with more or less calculation, appeal to the mass taste. Movies prefer stories of transformation from bugdom upward, or, as in this picture, from fecklessness to something approaching sainthood.

There is a fine moment of vindication at the end of In the Name of the Father, when the judge dismisses the case of The Crown v. Gerry Conlon and bangs his gavel. The audience in the courtroom cheers as Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) shrugs off his guards and announces that he is a free man and will walk out the front door. His lawyer, Mrs. Pierce (Emma Thompson), smiles in approval, and the crowd outside the courthouse roars in a celebration in which we are invited to join. . . . But of what? The correction of an injustice? The inevitable triumph of good over evil? The lesser contention that, if only through Murphy's Law, evil doesn't always win out?

Conlon was one of the Guildford Four, accused by the Brits of having...

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