A scene from 'Evelyn'
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**1/2 stars
94 minutes | Rated: PG
LIMITED: Friday, December 13, 2002
WIDER: Wednesday, December 25, 2002
Directed by Bruce Beresford

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Julianna Margulies, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Bates, John Lynch, Sophie Vavasseur, Karen Ardiff, Niall Beagan


This film has a TV-movie air about it anyway, so watching it on the small screen shouldn't make much difference.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 04.15.2003


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Moving true story of an Irish father fighting the system for his kids is hampered by elementary script, direction

By Rob Blackwelder

The most celebrated child custody battle in Irish history is the subject of "Evelyn," a moving but uninspired feel-good drama in which Pierce Brosnan stretches his anti-Bond acting muscles as a struggling carpenter and painter desperately fighting church and state to get his three button-cute kids out of foster care.

It seems that when the wife of Brosnan's real-life character Desmond Doyle swiped their bankbook from the coffee tin in their row-house kitchen in 1953 then disappeared with another man, the enforcers of family law ("a cozy conspiracy between the Catholic church and the Irish state") decided a single father without steady work made an unfit parent.

As the opening act of the movie unfolds, Doyle's beloved young children -- two boys and a sweet little girl whose name begot the film's title -- are dragged off to strict orphanage schools run by tyrannical nuns. Meanwhile, Brosnan kicks his character's tires, struggling for several scenes to get a bead on the guy as he looks for work, resolves to stay sober and takes on the Goliath system.

"Evelyn" may be based on fact and its star does get his act together before long, but the script is the stuff of Screenwriting 101. It's the kind of movie in which people say things like, "The supreme court? They won't hear a case like this!" But soon Doyle has three lawyers in his corner: a stuffy family law barrister (Stephen Rea), boozy but wise, once-famous litigator (Alan Bates), and an hotshot advocate visiting from America (Adian Quinn) who is persuaded to take the case by the flimsy line, "What if it was your family? Wouldn't you fight tooth an nail to get them back?"

With that guilt trip delivered, director Bruce Beresford ("Double Jeopardy," "Driving Miss Daisy") zooms obtrusively in on Quinn's face for a telegraphed reaction of empathetic recognition: The high-priced solicitor remembers that he once lost custody of his own kids in a divorce and rallies to our hero's aid.

This is also the kind of movie that leaves a lot of obvious questions unanswered, not the least of which is this: If Doyle's retired father (Frank Kelly) has nothing better to do than be at his son's side through all this, why couldn't he have watched the kids, thereby avoiding this whole predicament in the first place?

Yet the good intentions, the strong story grounding "Evelyn" and the warm sense of Doyle's determination eventually do triumph over its extremely elementary storytelling -- which continues right up to the verdict, absurdly dragged out for bogus dramatic effect.

The plot may be a wonderful, moving historical fable, but while the courts eventually did Doyle and his kids justice, this movie's mushy script, shallow direction and occasionally misfiring performances do not. "Evelyn" jerks some earnestly sentimental tears, but for a true story it sure feels fake.


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