“Into the West” is an unusual mix of fairy tale and social drama, inspired by Irish and Greek myths but grounded in the punishing reality of poverty and loss. While this film was marketed as a children’s adventure story, “Into the West” is a multi-layered drama in which a white stallion enters the life of a fractured family and heals their wounds.
Gabriel Byrne stars as John “Papa” Reilly, a man mired in alcoholic grief over his wife’s death. He renounces his life as a Traveller (Ireland’s nomadic ethnic minority) and lives in a run-down apartment complex in Dublin with his two sons. Ossie and Tito (Ciaran Fitzgerald and Ruaidhri Conroy) spend their days skipping school and begging on the streets, earning money to help their less fortunate friends. The boys also watch American Westerns on television, enthralled by the exploits of the Lone Ranger and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Their Traveller grandfather (David Kelly) arrives for a visit, accompanied by a mysterious white stallion. Ossie and Tito immediately bond with the animal and refuse to give him up. It is impossible, however, to keep a horse stabled in an apartment without the neighbors complaining. The authorities confiscate Tir na nOg and sell him to a wealthy businessman, who promptly renames the horse National Security. Ossie and Tito manage to liberate Tir na nOg and head West, just like their cinema heroes.
It is impossible not to fall in love with Tito and Ossie, two irrepressible spirits who discover that all they really want is to be with their father. Director Mike Newell (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) captures unaffected and intelligent performances from child actors Ciaran Fitzgerald and Ruaidhri Conroy. The scene in which Ossie learns his mother died giving birth to him is beautiful and heartbreaking. Newell’s direction is underpinned by Jim Sheridan’s expert writing, which mixes social commentary and fantastical elements with ease.
Surprisingly, the credits make no mention of the horse (or horses) who play Tir na nOg. Perhaps the producers wish him to remain as mysterious a character as he is in the film.
“Into the West” was released in 1992. The film is rated PG for some mild profanity and implied violence. It is available on DVD, which is how I watched the film at my own expense. “Into the West” was produced by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, a topic I will address in my weekly newsletter. Review posted 1/6/2018.