It’s 1953 in Dublin, Ireland, the day after Christmas, and Desmond Doyle’s wife has run off in a motorcar with an English fancy man. Out of work, out of money and unlucky at love, Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) can at least take solace in the company of his three children, that is, until his spiteful and disapproving mother-in-law sics the nuns on him. Since Doyle can’t seem to muscle up any work, and enjoys a few too many pints on the side, the authorities see fit to take his children away to be raised in the more suitable, “morally upright” church-run orphanages. But even after Doyle improves his occupational circumstances, his children are kept from him, because the Catholic Church and the Irish courts are in cahoots.

Every once in awhile, justice manages to fight its way through the dusty crevices of judicial tradition, like the real-life court case Evelyn is based on, but not every righteous victory in reality guarantees a good movie. Director Bruce Beresford has raised eyebrows before with respected works such as Black Robe and Driving Miss Daisy, but no matter how prominent and important the Doyle case was and is to Ireland’s family life, when you portray it with generic dialogue and predictable scene sequencing, it loses all its potency.

The film’s lack of personality permeates all its aspects — from the TV movie-esque, affected child acting to the dullest Irish pub scenes ever filmed. Even at its high-energy, hot-tempered Irishman climaxes, like when Doyle discovers his daughter Evelyn’s been abused by a nun, his threat resorts to watery cliché: “If you ever lay a finger on my daughter again, I will tear you limb from limb!”

Still, it’s refreshing to see Brosnan in a non-espionage role, no longer banished to the mediocre land of neo-Bond. It’s just too bad he doesn’t have more to work with.

In the film, the officers of the law proclaim they must not be ruled by sentiment. If only Evelyn followed the same canon.

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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