'The Eclipse'

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For "The Eclipse," Conor McPherson leverages several of the assets that made his acclaimed Broadway play "The Seafarer" a hit.

Back is that intriguing mix of engaging drama and wonderful dialogue, all infused with stirring hints of the supernatural. He also reconvenes the considerable talents of "seafarers" Ciaran Hinds and Tony-winning Jim Norton, here stretching far beyond their stage characters in the kind of well-crafted work art house audiences will embrace.

Hinds stars as Michael Farr, a widowed father who cares for two young children and works as a woodworking teacher in the tiny scenic town of Cobh, in County Cork, Ireland. Each year, Cobh welcomes a prestigious literary gathering at which Michael serves as a volunteer, often helping transport participants. This year things have grown creepy as Michael, who recently lost his wife, senses that her ghost might be stirring about his cozy, dark wood home.

The real fun begins with the arrival of the literati. There's the self-absorbed Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), a best-selling author with a weakness for the bottle and hunger for Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), another visiting writer who has brought her supernatural-themed book "The Eclipse." The two had a previous fling at the festival, but Lena is having second thoughts because Nicholas, clearly a cad, is married.

Michael busies himself with his kids and nursing-home visits to his aging father-in-law, Malachy McNeill (Norton), also grieving for his lost daughter. Michael also works as driver for Lena, who is being housed in charming seaside quarters on the edge of town. But it is the repeated spectral sightings that haunt him. It is therefore no surprise that he and Lena bond over her literary preoccupation with the supernatural.

The lives of Michael and the two writers collide as Nicholas, on the verge of a broken marriage, grows more aggressive in his pursuit of Lena just as Lena and Michael are growing closer. There's further drama, even a scare or two, derived from Michael's ghost-inspired premonitions of Malachy's death.

While the Lena-Michael romance evolves convincingly, the filmmaker mines humor from bad boy Nicholas, the swaggering egomaniac of a booze-fueled writer who, thanks to Quinn's performance, dodges cliche. Hinds and Hjejle are outstanding, and the quaint Cobh locale — captured with the new Red digital camera — emerges as its own subject.

With "The Eclipse," which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, McPherson has craftily woven themes of grief, love and the possibility of the unknown into this closed small-town world — a magical place that characters and audiences alike can easily inhabit. (partialdiff)
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