Into the West
1992, PG, 97 min. Directed by Mike Newell. Starring Gabriel Byrne, Ellen Barkin, Ciaran Fitzgerald, Ruaidhri (rory) Conroy, David Kelly, Johnny Murphy.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 17, 1993
Into the West takes place once upon a time in modern Ireland. Papa Riley (Byrne) clearly loves his two young sons Tito (Conroy) and Ossie (Fitzgerald) but he's a widower and he drinks too much and he has no steady employment. They have come to live in the drab, faceless housing projects of modern Dublin. Boxed in by poverty and anonymity, the projects confine human spirit and stifle initiative. When their grandfather (Kelly) brings the boys a magnificent white horse, he connects the boys with their family heritage. They are all members of an ancient tribe called travellers. Derived from Celtic origins, the travellers are a gypsy-like nomadic culture with unique patterns of dress, speech and lifestyle. They travel in caravans, squat where they like, live largely off public assistance and are scorned and marginalized throughout Irish society. Filling the boys' heads with fairy tales and leprechaun yarns from the old world, their grandfather tells them the horse is named Tir na nOg, which means Land of Eternal Youth. The horse is beautiful and magical and develops a curious attachment to the boys. The boys hide the horse in their apartment, which, of course, brings the wrath of the authorities. Then an unscrupulous horse breeder, with the help of the police chief, spirits away Tir na nOg, so the boys do the only thing they see fit -- they snatch back the horse and light out into the west. The boys embark on an outlaw adventure into the countryside, toward freedom, straight out of ancient folk legends, direct from modern-day movie screens. Chasing after them are their father and two of his old traveller friends (Barkin and Murphy) whose aid he has sought, the police and the horse breeder. Ossie and Tito become modern Irish cowboys, the stuff of legend, the lifeblood of myth. So many themes are agilely woven into the movie's fabric that there are things that will lure and excite a variety of viewers from kids to adults. There's the pure adventure, the darker social implications, the plight of single parents and the place of myth in modern life. The script is by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, The Field) who mixes all this heady material with lots of genuine humor and a flair for spinning a story. Director Newell (Dance With a Stranger, Enchanted April), with the impeccable aid of his crew and cast, at all times keeps the story fluid and engrossing with exciting action sequences and touching dramatic exchanges. There is an understated visual dialogue which contrasts the oppositions between the city and the country, the drab and the fanciful, the housing projects and the wide open prairie. While grown-ups are sure, at the very least, to respect Into the West's beauty and integrity, it may be a tougher sell amongst the very young where the Irish brogues and the lack of rugged Hollywood heroes and high-tech derring-do may prove impediments. But the aura of magic realism has never felt more tantalizing as it shimmers Into the West.