John Sayles' flexibility has always been one of his most underrated strengths. His ability to create with great detail the workings of communities, by now something of a trademark, is the sort of skill that translates to a wider variety of projects and just as many settings. Here Sayles chooses a small Irish community, allowing the details of it to unfold as his protagonist, a child and an outsider, discovers them for herself. Sayles' lack of sentimentality serves him well in dealing with the film's highly emotional material. The family history, folk tales, and the drama of a lost child all could have tipped The Secret of Roan Inish into undisciplined whimsy or unearned pathos. Instead he beautifully portrays how stories build into histories and bind communities and families together into a shared and continuing story. For all that, it's also a fantastic children's film, the perfect antidote for the condescending and overly commercial fare that usually passes for kid-oriented entertainment. Pitching to all levels, Sayles crafts a gripping story that those who see it when young will grow to appreciate all the more when older.
by Keith Phipps review