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Friday Flicks: ‘Into the West’

At some point, we’ve probably all fantasized about a white horse galloping into our lives and carrying us away. In the 1992 film Into the West, one does. Horse Nation film critic Amanda Ronan reviews.

From Amanda:

Into the West (1992) stars Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin.  It is based on a story written by Michael Pearce.

The movie begins with a mysterious white horse galloping seaside until he encounters an old Gypsy, whom of course he follows.  Which makes me wonder, why can’t some strange, athletic mystifying horse ever just show up at my door?  It happens a lot in the movies!

Carrying on…

Suddenly, we are in the grungy, urban, outskirts of Dublin where we are introduced to Papa Reilly, played by Byrne, and his two sons.  As it turns out the old Gypsy is their grandfather.

Boys:  “Grandpa!  Grandpa!  Can we go on the horse?”

Grandpa (with a face only an old horseman can conjure):  “Aye, you can if you’re able.”

While the eldest boy, Tito, plods around on the wagon horse, the youngest, Ossie, immediately takes to the new, white horse.

Grandpa: “Ossie!  You must have the gift!”

Ossie:  “He likes me ’cause I like him.”

They name the horse Tír na nÓg, after the Irish mythical land of eternal youth and beauty, and move him into their Dublin apartment.  Yes, I said apartment… elevator ride included.  We quickly learn that not everything is magical for these children.  Ossie and Tito care for themselves, and many of the neighborhood kids as well, by singing on the street and doing odd jobs.  The parents all seem to be dead or drunk and worthless.

Unfortunately, the police and Department of Health eventually find out a horse is living downtown.  They forcibly remove Tír na nÓg from the family.  The father manages to crawl out of his alcoholic stupor long enough to inquire about Tír na nÓg, who has already been sold to a ruthless jumper barn.  After the loss of his horse, young Ossie’s health declines quickly.  So Ossie and Tito begin searching.

Weeks later while renting a movie, the boys happen to see Tír na nÓg jumping at the Dublin Horse Show on TV!  Next thing we know, their father is being dragged into the police station and forced down into a chair opposite a TV and VCR.  The images show the boys jumping in to the Dublin Horse Show arena, jumping on to Tír na nÓg’s back, and bam… they’ve just stolen a Grand Prix jumper!  Whaaa!

Armed with six bars of chocolate and two cans of beans, the boys head out of Dublin in a vaguely westerly direction… towards the “Wild” west.

Their desperate father seeks out the help of other Travellers, or Gypsies, to find his sons.  We find out that the father isn’t all bad, just severely depressed over the death of his wife.  The loss caused him to turn his back on the Gypsy lifestyle.

The boys, meanwhile, are having the time of their lives.  They pray to a Saint on a mountain, get caught in the middle of a jolly good foxhunt, and spend all night in a movie theatre gorging on popcorn and punch while watching Back to the Future Part III.

The fun ends when the police, complete with vicious dogs and helicopters, catch up to them.  Ossie, Tito, and Tír na nÓg are chased through the city and over the countryside.  Tír na nÓg, in a last ditch effort to save his boys, hides them under a waterfall.

Will they escape the police?  Will Papa Reilly mend his ways and find his boys?  Will we ever find out where the mysterious Tír na nÓg came from anyway?  You’ll just have to watch and see!

I really liked this little film.  Judging by the cover, I thought it was going to be a silly, kids adventure movie, but it wasn’t.  It dealt with a lot of deeper themes: loss of a mother, loss of a wife, alcohol dependency, social unrest, and the rights of Irish Travellers and Gypsies to their lifestyle in the modern world.  The young actors playing Tito, Rúaidhrí Conroy, and Ossie, Ciarán Fitzgerald, were perfectly cast as innocent, albeit naive, boys who truly believe in magical horses.  The Irish scenery was breathtaking and I loved the Gypsy style soundtrack.  I give Into the West 3 ½ out of 4 Golden Horseshoes.

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