The Run of the Country (1995)
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And the movie has some mild controversy. None of which has to do with cock-fighting or the IRA. It lies within the fiber of the telling. Some have said: formulaic. Some have said: episodic. Some have said: plotless.
Well, then...which is it?
Strictly speaking, "formulaic" movies should have a plot, and plotless movies cannot be "formulaic". Formulaic cannot be "episodic"...
I say: the movie goes about just as life does - haphazardly, full of turns expected and not. Each random event, another one of life's lessons which add to one's strength or weakness.
I recommend this movie to those whose view of life is not an exercise in the breaking the speed of light - but instead of a "taking in" of that light and welcoming the ensuing darkness as a natural flow and balance of all things.
I liked the mode and standing of the storyline to this film, reading like an old novel one would read from the archives or see in a soap opera drama/adventure.
I watched the film like I would any paperback-novel-turned-film but when Victoria Smurfit popped up, I took better notice because I had the sensual hot spot for her since "Ballykissangel" when she replaced my previous interest Dervla Kerwin. The unsung natural beauty was the right filler for Annagh...and call me a pervert for this but to finally see Victoria Smurfit nude after imagining it from only two provocative scenes from "Ballykissangel" fulfilled an old dream, the fulfillment of which gave me reason to pursue viewing the rest of the movie.
Much like "Little House on the Prairie" was in the 70's, this Irish variation of a "Little House" 2-part episode is specifically meant for those with the soft heart for country life and times, good and bad, with the specter of then-modern Ireland working into the fabric of the story.
Although directed by Peter Yates, do not expect anything on the level of his "Breaking Away" masterpiece. Shane Connaughton adapted his own novel about characters living near the "artificial" border between the two Irelands. His characters are all contradictions. Teenage Danny (Matt Keeslar) is cold and reserved but given to moments of extreme impulse and passion. His father (Albert Finney) fluctuates between a wise caring philosopher and a nasty frustrated bully. His wild friend Prunty (Anthony Brophy) is a fun-loving free spirit who is secretly a very active member of the IRA. His red-haired Irish girl is the product of a mixed (Catholic-Protestant) marriage and fluctuates between a mature self-possessed young woman and a weak little girl who inexplicably fails to do and say very obvious things that would improve the situation. These contradictions might be effective allegorical elements in the novel but do not translate to believable characters in the context of a film, where there is not adequate time to explore their motivations and complexities.
The production is technically solid and the supporting cast is excellent. Brophy is the best of the leads and Keeslar is worst. If there was a box office reason for casting a handsome American actor as Danny (who was not a pretty boy in the novel), it did not serve them well and it totally alters the basic charm of the core romance.
The scenery is nice, David Kelly (the Irish builder O'Reilly in "Fawlty Towers) is excellent as the local priest, Carole Nimmons is very entertaining as Mrs. Prunty, and there are some funny lines. The weakest parts of the film are the closing scenes, which are soap opera melodrama. Up to this point the film has maintained a generally realistic tone and the resolution comes across as contrived and unlikely (insert disappointing here).
THE PLOT: Near the border of Northern Ireland an 18 year-old named Danny (Matt Keeslar) leaves home after the death of his mother due to serious friction with his gruff father (Albert Finney), a local cop. Danny moves in with his free-spirited friend, Cocoa (Anthony Brophy), and learns the ropes of manhood, including an intimate relationship with a girl across the border, Annagh (Victoria Smurfit). When crises strike he finally comes to understand his... (watch the film and find out).
Shot in the Redhills, County Cavan, area of Ireland, near the border, "Run of the Country" is a realistic coming-of-age drama. The acting is great across the board, especially Finney as the father and Brophy as Danny's wild friend. Simply put, this is quality drama with laughs, romance, conflict, action and gorgeous photography of rural Ireland.
In the novel, the women were in the periphery: Danny's mother is dead in the beginning. His love interest is a bland but beautiful girl from the good side of the tracks. Danny is an awkward, gangley teen with bad skin who has no chance with the beautiful girl, but gets her anyway due to his heart and personality.
The movie switches the roles. Danny, still a great personality but now he looks like a Calvin Klein model. The girl, still a bland personality, but now she is equally bland looking. But she gets Danny. Why? The movie gives no clue.
My guess: the story was changed because the film is now aimed at teenage girls who want to see a plain girl with no personality get the super-hunk. Prunty was neutered so he didn't threaten the girls chances. Why switch the action from the 1950s to 1990s? I guess the target audience couldn't have coped with working their brains.
Danny (Matt Keeslar) is an very innocent teenage who recently lost his mother and has to live with his tough father (Albert Finney) a police inspector who's main interest is to make his son move with a aunt in America where he could study in a good college. Danny is kind of lost in what to do with his life, and tired of deal with the father he moves to the house of his friend Prunty (Anthony Brophy) a very pleasant and funny lad. The rest of the movie is a cliché after a cliché: Danny falls in love for the first time after meeting Annagh (Victoria Smurfit) a rich girl, she got pregnant, they don't know what to do, Danny's father thinks he ruined his life with that and all kinds of things.
Now here comes some unusual and unnecessary things. What bothered me in this story about growing up is the way Yates dealt with the subject or perhaps the way writer Shane Connaughton wrote was cruel and excessive to with own material (he wrote the novel and the film). In this drama there's too much deaths (more deaths than in "Goodfellas") and there's nothing in it that explain to us what's the point of all that. 8 funerals: Danny's mother, Danny and Annagh's son, a mouse, a pig recently blessed by Danny in a prank, two Biritsh pilots, a drunk man who was decapitated while sleeping in the forest (it isn't showed but it's actually scary) and Prunty (who has the weirdest death scene in the movie). I mean the story moves well but these things almost made me think that it was a ridiculous and pessimistic film. Very downer. Another unusual scene was when Annagh's parents punished Danny for get involved with her. Sometimes adapt your own novel to the screen needs a better development and some liberties must be taken otherwise it becomes a excessive freak show.
Finney's performance was okay, he's always a great actor and let's face it, the 1990's wasn't a memorable decade to him in films. The real good thing here was Matt Keeslar, good actor who haven't got any major role after this (except for "Splendor"). His manners and looks were very believable in his portrayal of a shattered young man trying to find his own way in the world after many bad things happened.
Not the best work of Peter Yates but not his worst also (I haven't seen his worst yet, he's a great director). 6/10