Ghostly scenes don't Eclipse subtle Irish drama

Aidan Quinn enlivens The Eclipse's paranormal activity

Ghosts manifest at brief, eerie moments in The Eclipse, but the soft-spoken Irish drama also attends to other hauntings. Characters can obsess over one-night stands, brood over the fate of loved ones and even fall under the spell of good books. Spirits aren't the only things that can occupy somebody's head space.

Writer/director Conor McPherson employed the power of ghost stories to enthrall theater audiences in his play The Weir. In The Eclipse, he treats the possibility of undead visitations as just part of a narrative puzzle. He respects the audience to work out some of the ideas for themselves.

Ciarán Hinds, best known for his statesman-like Julius Caesar in HBO's "Rome," plays Michael Farr, a widower with two children who volunteers at a literary festival in an Irish seaside town. During the festival, he repeatedly crosses paths with two literary luminaries: a gentle novelist Lena Morelle (High Fidelity's Iben Hjejle), whose work relies on ghostly themes; and boorish celebrity author Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), who treats everyone but Lena with sneering contempt. Part pompous ass, part spoiled brat, Quinn's performance is so effective, people might start avoiding the actor at parties.

Michael also sees ominous apparitions of his late wife's father – even though he's still alive and in a nearby nursing home. The Eclipse primarily comes across as a delicate, redemptive character study, which makes its horrific, out-of-nowhere jolts even more startling. McPherson's use of occasional shock scenes and stylized tracking shots fits uncomfortably with its more tenderly observed moments of midlife friendship and literary cocktail parties.

The Eclipse hints that the supernatural intrusions could represent Michael's guilt over his wife's death and his father-in-law's abandonment, but the film leaves plenty of room for other interpretations without feeling wishy-washy. Refreshingly, The Eclipse contains ghostly plot points without building to a labored, last-minute twist. Thanks to Quinn's rich, sensitive performance, the audience would rather focus on the land of the living than the paranormal activity.