This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Do you know who Peter Mullan is? A lot of people don't, but since 1990, he has moved quietly but firmly into the first rank of British film actors. A Scot, he had small roles in pictures like "Riff-Raff," "Shallow Grave," "Braveheart" and "Trainspotting" and then in 1998, he starred in Ken Loach's "My Name Is Joe," playing a recovering alcoholic just at that stage when he begins to believe that he might be able to trust himself. The performance came out of nowhere to win the best actor award at Cannes.
Since then, one powerful performance after another. In Mike Figgis' "Miss Julie" (1999), he was the servant who has an affair with a countess in a film based on the Strindberg play. In Michael Winterbottom's' "The Claim" (2000), a Thomas Hardy story moved to the Sierra Nevadas, he runs a frontier town with an iron hand. He directed "The Magdalene Sisters" (2002), an angry exposé of the practice in Ireland of condemning sexually curious girls to a lifetime of unpaid servitude in church laundries. In "Young Adam" (2003), he was the barge captain whose wife is stolen away by a young man they hire as crew.
I mention these titles to call attention to an extraordinary talent, and as a way of backing into my review of "On a Clear Day," which is a conventional film for an unconventional actor. When you start out working with Ken Loach, Danny Boyle and Michael Winterbottom, it shows recognition of sorts, I suppose, but not necessarily progress, to qualify as the lead in a Baked Potato People movie. (See note below.) Mullan is at about the same stage in his career as Al Pacino was when he made "Bobby Deerfield." Actors sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because they can play anyone, they should.
Mullan plays Frank Redmond, who has just been laid off his job after half a lifetime spent working as a ship builder in Glasgow. He is a man with inner torments (he blames himself for the drowning of a small son), and with time on his hands, he sinks into depression and is hospitalized with a panic attack. Not to fear: The movie offers those varieties of depression and panic that function not as real problems but as plot conveniences, setting the other characters astir.