Actor Pierce Brosnan makes his producing bow for his own banner, Irish DreamTime, in “The Nephew,” marking the first Irish film in which he’s acted in nearly a decade. Debuting director Eugene Brady’s dramatic treatment of what could have been good sitcom material makes for a strange beast, half culture clash, half family melodrama. Though Brosnan’s star power is diminished in a supporting role, pic’s emphasis on human relations and a warm ending, as well as its widescreen, tourist-board visuals, should help the film find its way to theatrical release for family audiences.
Set against the lush backdrop of an emerald islet, this is the unlikely tale of the tumult caused in a small community when the inbred denizens discover they have a young American cousin who is talented, handsome and black.
When Chad Egan-Washington (Hill Harper) shows up on the Irish island of Inis Dara to scatter his mother’s ashes on her native land, his misanthropic uncle Tony Egan (Donal McCann), a farmer, is the first to be shocked. Having broken off contact with his sister 20 years back after a spat, Tony had no idea she had married a black New Yorker or that she ran a grocery store in Hell’s Kitchen.
Chad, an extremely polite boy with dreadlocks and a talent for sketching, is soon accepted as an oddity. He doesn’t take to farm chores much, but the girls in town are wild about his exotic looks and American accent. His romance with Aislin (Aislin McGuckin) makes her dad, Joe Brady (Brosnan), see red — not because of Chad’s color, as one might imagine, but because he once had a doomed love affair with Chad’s mother and never got over it.
Tension also mounts with uncle Tony, as the boy’s questions bring long-buried family skeletons out of the closet regarding Tony’s unwarranted cruelty toward Chad’s mother and toward his ex, the sensible, maternal Brenda O’Boyce (Sinead Cusack).
As the Irish-American hero, Harper, who has worked with Spike Lee, projects a non-threatening nice-guy aura even when he suddenly shaves his head mid-film. Jacqueline O’Neill and Sean P. Steele’s soft-spoken script is determined to ignore the racial question his presence raises as much as possible, treating his color as just a good joke at uncle Tony’s expense.
Brosnan’s famous face makes for an eccentric island bartender, and his role as Aislin’s irrationally jealous pater remains murky even after it’s duly explained. Harper’s likable Yank directness contrasts amusingly with the style of the top-drawer Irish cast, with McCann, Cusack and McGuckin giving their dramatic all.
Pic’s best moments are its offbeat glimpses of local life captured en passant: two nuns fly-fishing in a stream in hip boots, the warm wake where Chad is introduced to the town, a farmhand (Niall Tobin) improvising rap from the top of a tractor. Stephen McKeon’s rendition of booming, melodic folk tunes complements cinematographer Jack Conroy’s eye-soothing Panavision lensing of verdant pastures and violet sunsets over the sea.