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‘Into the West’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 17, 1993


Mike Newell
Gabriel Bryne;
Ellen Barkin;
Colm Meaney;
Ciaran Fitzgerald;
Rory Conroy;
David Kelly;
Johnny Murphy
Parental guidance suggested

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To 12-year-old Tito and his 8-year-old brother Ossie, the white horse called Tir na nOg is not of this world. The beautiful steed, given to them by their gypsy grandfather, is the finest, most beautiful thing in their lives. So when Tir na nOg (whose Celtic name means The Land of Eternal Youth) is apprehended by a police officer with black-market intentions, it's time for the Dublin lads to rescue their beloved and kindred spirit.

"Into the West," which stars Gabriel Byrne as the boys' down-and-depressed father, and Ellen Barkin (as a gypsy who helps Byrne pursue his on-the-lam children), is a charming children's crusade -- a rewarding journey for all ages.

Scriptwriter Jim ("My Left Foot") Sheridan and director Mike Newell (who did "Enchanted April") follow the boys' quixotic mission with an acute eye for the drab depression of Dublin's low-income apartment towers, the beautiful countryside beyond it and the hermetic, lore-driven world of the "travelers," a Celtic-originated gypsy tribe.

Stuck in a rat-infested flat, Tito and Ossie are forced to abide the drunken, grieving gloom of their recently widowed father, Papa Riley (Byrne). To the boys, the arrival of Tir na nOg is the promise of better things. They listen, enrapt, as their grandfather (David Kelly) recounts the story of the Land of Eternal Youth, the mythical place under the sea where their horse comes from.

But to their besotted father, who has rejected his traveler roots, Tir na nOg is just another maintenance problem. When an unscrupulous horse breeder (John Kavanagh) and a conspiring police chief take the horse away, Papa Riley only half-heartedly attempts to retrieve him. Appalled, the boys take matters into their own hands.

The result is a sort of Celtic junior version of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," as Tito and Ossie abscond with the horse, hide him under bridges and ride into the sunset, with the authorities -- and their contrite dad -- hot on their heels. They're headed for the west coast, where they intend to help Tir na nOg return to his mythic home under the sea. Spiritually rejuvenated by a reunion with the travelers, Papa Reilly realizes that -- should he find his children -- it's imperative to help them.

Despite its twinkly eyed intentions, "Into the West" avoids the cloying, Disneyesque route. This is not a slapstick chase movie full of precious moments between a boy and his horse. The boys' dirty-faced ordeal is a very real, dangerous one, and their naive faith is the only defense against oppressive surroundings. Most of the emotional impact comes from the mutual presence of child actors Ciaran (pronounced "Keeran") Fitzgerald as Ossie, and Ruaidhri ("Rory") Conroy as Tito. With their pluckiness and perky brogue, they make two of the most memorable scalawags to scuffle across the screen in a long time. You can hear their chirrupy voices long after the movie is over.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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