On A Clear Day is a story of a middle-aged man, recently let go from his job, and still grieving the loss of a child who died in a swimming accident decades earlier. With no direction to his life and battling a spiral of depression he decides to swim the English Channel. Along with four good friends also feeling the pull of monotony in their lives, they each strive to see him succeed in his attempt. On A Clear Day is one of the most touching and heartfelt yet tearless films I’ve seen in a long time. It is a movie to make you want more from life and yet find appreciation and happiness in the little things.
In watching Clear Day there is a strength and yet a simplicity about the film. It focuses intensely on Peter Mullan’s character, Frank Redmond, and then at times quickly pulls back and strikes a contrast between his life and the passion others have in theirs. For example, during a scene of an exhausted Frank swimming at the pool, the camera abruptly shifts as three disabled children are coming out of the locker room. Immediately it is thrown in your face that through all of Frank’s efforts there are others for whom getting into the water and not drowning is the triumph.
A nice touch in the film is that, because the story is so centered on telling Frank’s tale and not littered with extraneous fluff for the sake of cheap laughs or unnecessary shock value, the audience can understand what’s going on without seeing every scene. During the course of the film Frank’s wife, wonderfully played by Brenda Blethyn, is trying to become a bus driver but keeps failing the driving test. The audience, however, never sees her drive a bus. Why? Because shots of her driving the bus, or being nervous, or running into something aren’t necessary. We see the scenes where she gets off the bus, takes her purse, walks up to the man in charge, he shakes his head…and we know. We know she failed again and as we see these scenes shot differently again, we know she failed another time, and another. It is only because the story is so well done and concentrated that this is possible. When other movies attempt the same thing, most of the time the story is spread so thinly over so many characters the genuineness doesn’t come across and we’re lost. I applaud Alex Rose, the writer, for a job well done.
Another aspect that makes Clear Day such a success is the absolute strength of the actors in the film and also the variety of the actors. To be a British independent film doesn’t mean that every character is an older white man with an accent and a cup of tea in his hand. The movie is made more real and true by having characters played by Benedict Wong and Billy Boyd who each present new viewpoints and energy to Frank’s goal.
On A Clear Day is fabulous at pulling the audience in and consuming them with the direction of Frank’s life and yet at the same time teaches that it’s not all about this one man alone. This is truly a story of the greatness of little successes and comes as a reminder to honor and respect them when they happen.
Unfortunately for Clear Day the same simplicity doesn’t speak well for extras. The disc has none. I understand that this is an independent film and they probably didn’t have the biggest budget for shooting extra material or holding interviews, but it is truly disappointing to finish this film with such momentum and then find there’s nothing else to see.
On the one hand, it’s fine; the movie stands so well on it’s own you don’t need anything more to “get it.” On the other, it would be nice to see interviews with the cast because they were so phenomenal, or hear the director Gaby Dellal and writer Alex Rose do an audio commentary. It would be great to know what inspired the story, where they shot the scenes, who tripped over what; those kinds of things that give an inside look. With any luck, if anything was recorded behind the scenes, one day there will be a "Clearer Day Edition." If not, it certainly is a good idea to keep an eye on Dellal and Rose to see what they do next.