A Pint-Size Butch & Sundance, Irish Style (Film Review: “Into The West”)

As I anticipate next week’s release of the film adaptation of a novel I fell in love with 25 years ago, Winter’s Tale, in which a magical white horse is central in the time-bending narrative, I thought of another magical white horse in a much-loved film just perfect for a snowy weekend home with your family:  Into The West.



SnapShot Plot

Set in contemporary Ireland, Into The West is a story about a father and his sons, brotherly devotion, a mother’s eternal love, a magical horse, and Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid…or more to the point, the Wild West as imagined by two poor kids from the slums of Dublin. Gabriel Byrne (who co-produced the film) is Papa Reilly, a down-on-his-luck widower struggling to feed his two boys, Tito and Ossie in a demoralizing housing project. Papa has never gotten over the loss of his beloved wife who died giving birth to little Ossie, so he takes his only comfort at the nearest pub. When the boys’ maternal grandfather (played by the late veteran Irish character actor, David Kelly) shows up in his wagon with a majestic white horse in tow, an intense bond immediately forms between the animal and Ossie, to the amazement of all.  The grandfather calls the horse Tír na nÓg, which stands for the Land of Eternal Youth in a fable he proceeds to tell the children gathered around the horse. He also informs the boys about the great legacy of their father, who in his prime was the King of the Travelers, the band of Irish gypsies (who to this day roam the countryside like Bedouins), not the broken down man he is today. The horse will not leave Ossie’s side so he and Tito decide to adopt it and try concealing  Tír na nÓg in their cramped hovel of an apartment, until the authorities are alerted, the horse is stolen, the boys run away to rescue the horse, and so ensues a cross-country adventure in which the brothers re-cast themselves in the roles of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, trying to get to The West across the Rio Grande. Of course, their father goes searching for them, as does the Police and some very unscrupulous businessmen. From slapstick farce to mythic landscapes, it’s the adventure of their young lives, with so much hanging in the balance.

Parting Shot

What makes a classic family film? I think it’s when you have a singular collision of realism and fantasy which allows us to look deeply and continue to see new textures and colors no matter how many times we watch it, while for kids it’s the sheer fun, adventure and excitement of the story… which is all they really want. In Into The West, we can lose ourselves in an emotionally engrossing film experience due to the collaboration between director, Mike Newell (Four Weddings & A Funeral), writer, Jim Sheridan (before My Left Foot fame), and composer Patrick Doyle, whose original score evokes the mystery and wonder of the Celtic countryside and its people.

As Gabriel Byrne has said of the character of Papa, “He’s brutalized and beaten by life but he still has within him a great dignity and a love for his children.  And it’s this love for his kids that in the end, is his redemption.”

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YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOAb-sUCm7U

Featured Image Courtesy of: http://forestrowfilmsociety.org/past2008.html


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