Directed by Jim Sheridan, starring Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger and Djimon Hounsou.

Director Jim Sheridan ('In the Name of the Father', 'My Left Foot') draws on his own experiences as an Irishman struggling to follow his dream in what is his most personal film to date, 'In America'. It's an uneven but compelling story of an Irish immigrant family - actor Johnny (Considine) his wife Sarah (Morton) and their two young daughters Christy and Ariel (Sarah and Emma Bolger). Leaving Ireland, they travel to America, ostensibly so that Johnny can find more acting work but also to try to escape the heartbreak of the loss of their son Frankie.

Illegally crossing the Canadian border in a beat-up car, they drive to New York and set up home in a gothic building, peopled by transvestites, drag queens and junkies. While Johnny drives cabs and Sarah waits tables, the girls go about discovering life in America with an infectious curiosity, befriending their mysterious neighbour, a tormented artist called Mateo (Hounsou). Despite Sarah and Johnny's attempts to escape the past, the ghost of Frankie - a child we only ever see through others' eyes and on Christy's camera - is a palpable presence throughout and the family cannot move forward until they come to terms with his death.

Although initially disjointed - perhaps because it had three writers, Sheridan sharing authorial responsibilities with his daughters, Naomi and Kirsten - 'In America' gradually comes together, gathering pace, meaning and feeling. That it is also uplifting and frequently hilarious is testament to the Sheridans' storytelling as well as to their onscreen alter egos. Samantha Morton brings a quiet intensity and passion to the role of Sarah, which is almost matched by Paddy Considine's performance. Djimon Hounsou does his imposing best with an underwritten part but the girls - real life sisters Sarah and Emma - are naturals, in particular seven-year-old Emma in her first acting role.

Although Sheridan is working with a smaller palette than in his other films, 'In America' is a big human story with characters you really care about and a devastating emotional punch. Even cynics - and critics - risk getting swept up in this one.

Caroline Hennessy