The Run of the Country
directed by Peter Yates
(Columbia, 1995)

You don't always know where you stand with The Run of the Country, another in a slew of modern Irish movies hitting the market in recent years. It's a coming-of-age film about a young Irish lad named Danny (Matt Keeslar) who lives just south of the border to troubled Northern Ireland. At times, it's Ireland's answer to wacky teenage comedies. At others, it's a deadly serious film about political strife, religious divisions and firmly held prejudices. It includes both lighthearted and tragic sides to young romance. But, at its deepest core, The Run of the Country is about a relationship between a father and son.

The movie begins with the funeral and wake for Danny's mother (Dearbhla Molley), whom we meet on several occasions during the film in a series of flashbacks. Unfortunately, that's one of the problems with the movie; while we get to know her as a tender mother, director Peter Yates doesn't always make it clear that we've jumped back in time, so it's sometimes hard to know exactly what you're watching.

Danny doesn't get on well with his gruff father (Albert Finney), a rural policeman who prays for a murder just to liven up his daily routine. Although the Sergeant seems kindly and loving in some scenes, he erupts into violent rages, and it's difficult at times to reconcile the two sides of his character.

Danny's best friend (and worst influence) is Prunty (Anthony Brophy), an unwashed rogue who drops pearls of rural wisdom a little too often for believability's sake -- a habit offset by his penchant for getting Danny into trouble. He, like Danny's father, seems to waver between characters, but he also provides most of the film's comic relief. His sheer unpredictability keeps you guessing through much of the story.

The romantic interest is Annagh (Victoria Smurfit), a lovely girl from just north of the border. Danny's awkward courtship of her is touching and their growing love is a pleasure to watch -- but when things go badly, she loses much of her former strength of character and allows events to proceed with little intervention.

While watching this movie, I had the sense that Yates couldn't decide if he had a comedy or a dark drama on his hands, so he tried to make both. It's unfortunate, because a tighter rein on things could have made this a much better film. By the end, we're left with a resolution that seems forced into an unnaturally neat package and the sense that, somewhere along the way, someone needed to stand up and say something. Also, just as the father-son relationship starts making sense, the credits roll.

The Run of the Country is, all things considered, a pretty good movie, with interesting people and a grand sense of life along the border. It's a shame Yates stopped short of making it great.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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