You’ve got to hand it to Colin Farrell: his cinematic rebirth gets better and better with each successive performance. After bursting onto the scene early last decade in Minority Report Phone Booth and S.W.A.T. a string of big-budget misses (remember Alexander?) made him nearly irrelevant as he became infamous for bad choices on and off the set. He then made a complete 180 opting for smaller more personal films like Cassandra’s Dream In Bruges and Pride and Glory – all of which allowed him to demonstrate his range and uncanny abilities. He’s now one of the most intriguing actors in the industry as he jumps from genre to genre making the work look easy while enthralling his audience at the same time.
His winning streak continues in writer/director Neil Jordan’s Ondine a splendid motion picture that blurs the lines between fantasy and drama. As the Irish fisherman Syracuse Farrell is a world-weary working class hero who relishes the time he gets to spend with his sick daughter Annie during his time ashore. On one particularly grey afternoon at sea he makes the most significant catch of his life - a barely clothed beautiful woman with no recollection of who she is or why she was in the water. As the film progresses we find out that there may be more to her story than she has told her rescuer.
In plain terms Ondine is essentially a live action Disney Renaissance picture without the vibrant colors or exuberant song and dance numbers. It is a simple story that isn’t entirely original and may be a bit predictable but is also infused with just enough mystery and charm to make it fulfilling. Though it is a “fantasy” don’t expect to find mermaids and magicians running rampant throughout the movie; this is a romantic drama with a splash of fairy tale mythology on top. I gave a welcome sigh of relief when the films climactic revelation spared me from a storybook cliché and instead presented a tidy rational answer to the question that the narrative proposes.
Farrell headlines the film but is surrounded by a capable cast of foreign actors including Jordan’s regular collaborator Stephen Rea who plays a priest who consoles Farrell’s recovering alcoholic. The one to watch however is Alicja Bachleda a stunning creature with an angelic presence who gives her ethereal title character a touch of vulnerability that makes her all the more believable. At the coveted-by-Hollywood age of 26 expect to see more of her in future films as a result of her lovely vocals grace and beauty. Also noteworthy is young Alison Barry who plays Farrell’s adorably fragile daughter Annie. She provides much needed lightheartedness to the film which teeters at times on the brink of being too serious.
Still being serious is what sets Ondine apart from similar fantasies like Splash Practical Magic and The Preacher’s Wife. It’s a touching tale but never gets soapy or melodramatic like some of those other titles. Jordan is to be commended for having a firm understanding of what he could and couldn’t accomplish with a narrative like this and he paints a pretty picture by working within the lines that define the genres that his script cross through. Taking unnecessary risks with the characters or conclusion would’ve just complicated a story that is quite lovely and pure as is.