November 10, 1995 in Seven

Smothered In Suffering, Youth Comes Of Age In ‘Run Of The Country’

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Simple observation tells us that suffering gives weight, if not actual definition, to the Irish soul. This much is clear from the country’s literature (See: Poetry, Ireland).

Irish cinema tells pretty much the same story. See such relatively recent efforts as “Cal” (1984), “My Left Foot” (1989) or “The Crying Game” (1992).

So it should come as no surprise that suffering, both its causes and modes of expression, serves as the central theme of Peter Yates’ “The Run of the Country.” After all, a country that harbors 70-year-old grudges as if they were yesterday’s wounds doesn’t easily give up its cliches.

And “The Run of the Country” is filled with plenty of those. It has cockfights, Catholic-Protestant tensions, adolescent angst, father-son battles of the will, long-suffering mothers, the IRA, anguished lovers, the disruptive agony of unwanted pregnancy, sudden and senseless death, the specter of The Church, the lure of America, etc., etc.

Any one of these would make a movie in and of itself. As explored in Shane Connaughton’s novel, perhaps all of them mesh successfully. Perhaps not.

Whatever, Connaughton certainly could not bring them to a totally happy mix in the screenplay that he himself adapted.

Like a writer so in love with his darlings that he can’t bear to leave out a word, Connaughton burdens us with so many plot trails that our attention is pulled away from what is important. And while the ultimate judgment of what is most important about “The Run of the Country” may depend on individual tastes, it’s no stretch to suggest that the relationship between 18-year-old Danny (Matt Keeslar) and his father (Albert Finney) ranks at or near the very top.

It is those two Irish guys who, still reeling over the death of their respective wife-mother (Dearbhla Molloy), joust over what comes next. Dad’s preferences would be a good non-political murder for him, a one-way trip to New York for Danny.

From Danny’s point of view, well, Danny doesn’t know what he wants - until he spies the red-haired beauty of Annagh (Victoria Smurfit) across the crowd at a country fair. And so runs the course of one of those obsessive, doomed-from-the-start, all-too-familiar love affairs.

All through it, though, “The Run of the Country” continues to come back to Danny and his dad.

To their unusual house arrangement in which Danny, dubious about continuing his studies, has taken over his mother’s chores (including the wearing of an apron). To the memories that Danny has of his father’s sometimes brutal treatment, both of himself and his mother.

And to the quarrel that, one day, caused the woman to drop dead in her garden.

In between these moments, Danny hangs out with his pal Prunty (Brophy), alternately tormenting the local priest and working in a dangerous tar pit, and loving Annagh with a ferocity born of desperation.

To tell Connaughton’s story, director Yates has several things going for him, not the least of which is the beautiful Irish countryside (it is one of life’s more resonating ironies that the most beautiful of lands all too often harbor the more murderous of atmospheres).

And then there are his actors, especially Finney who at age 59 seems to be working more and better than ever (see also “The Playboys” and “A Man of No Importance”).

In the end, though, “The Run of the Country” is a coming-of-age study of Danny and the difficult period that sees him on the brink of his own adulthood. He endures many trials along the way, too many by easily half a dozen, but he ends up better for the suffering of it.

If only that suffering had been more focused instead of portrayed through the broad brush of Irish ire.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “THE RUN OF THE COUNTRY” **-1/2 Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Peter Yates; starring Albert Finney, Matt Keeslar, Victoria Smurfit, Anthony Brophy and Dearbhla Molloy Running time: 1:40 Rating: R 2. OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “The Run of the Country:” Stephen Whitty/San Jose Mercury News: There are things an audience needs to be warned about before going into “The Run of the Country.” For one thing, the rural brogues can get a little thick at times. For another, the director and the screenwriter - on whose novel this is based - have indulged that book’s taste for melodrama and for sin. No morally questionable deed goes unpunished in the Ireland of “The Run of the Country,” and the punishments meted out always exceed the severity of the crime. But that, in its way, is Ireland. And its acknowledgment of what makes Ireland Ireland is what makes “The Run of the Country” such a small gem. Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: There’s nothing terribly wrong with “The Run of the Country.” It’s simply tepid. Joe Baltake/McClatchy News Service: The film is green and cool and inviting, thanks to Mike Southon’s sumptuous camera work, and there’s at least one truly memorable moment - a death scene - that you won’t soon forget. But the rest of the film evaporates into the on-screen mists as soon as the performance is over. Stephen Holden/New York Times: With diffuse cinematography that lends the gorgeous Irish landscape a misty glow, “The Run of the Country” pointedly punctures the spell of its own visual lyricism at regular intervals. A romantic idyll is marred by the appearance of a helicopter and later a bomb detonated by the Irish Republican Army. A picture-perfect meadow is the setting for an illegal cockfight that is interrupted by a swarm of policemen who appear over the bluff and swoop down on the gathering. By the end of the film, Danny has absorbed enough pain to know that disaster can strike, and wherever there is beauty there is also likely to be terror. William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer: There are many exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking it is not a good idea to have a novelist adapt his own book for the movies. As an art form, the cinema is much closer to the short story than the novel, and the brutal surgery required to cram a big book into a small screenplay is a job best given to someone with more objectivity than the original author. Take, for instance, “Run of the Country.” This modern Irish drama is full of good performances, strong scenes and moody Irish scenery, but Shane Connaughton’s adaptation of his own novel is littered with so many incidents and so many themes (seemingly every aspect of the novel is here) that it never quite finds the narrow narrative line a movie requires to have much of an impact.

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “THE RUN OF THE COUNTRY” **-1/2 Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Peter Yates; starring Albert Finney, Matt Keeslar, Victoria Smurfit, Anthony Brophy and Dearbhla Molloy Running time: 1:40 Rating: R 2. OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “The Run of the Country:” Stephen Whitty/San Jose Mercury News: There are things an audience needs to be warned about before going into “The Run of the Country.” For one thing, the rural brogues can get a little thick at times. For another, the director and the screenwriter - on whose novel this is based - have indulged that book’s taste for melodrama and for sin. No morally questionable deed goes unpunished in the Ireland of “The Run of the Country,” and the punishments meted out always exceed the severity of the crime. But that, in its way, is Ireland. And its acknowledgment of what makes Ireland Ireland is what makes “The Run of the Country” such a small gem. Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: There’s nothing terribly wrong with “The Run of the Country.” It’s simply tepid. Joe Baltake/McClatchy News Service: The film is green and cool and inviting, thanks to Mike Southon’s sumptuous camera work, and there’s at least one truly memorable moment - a death scene - that you won’t soon forget. But the rest of the film evaporates into the on-screen mists as soon as the performance is over. Stephen Holden/New York Times: With diffuse cinematography that lends the gorgeous Irish landscape a misty glow, “The Run of the Country” pointedly punctures the spell of its own visual lyricism at regular intervals. A romantic idyll is marred by the appearance of a helicopter and later a bomb detonated by the Irish Republican Army. A picture-perfect meadow is the setting for an illegal cockfight that is interrupted by a swarm of policemen who appear over the bluff and swoop down on the gathering. By the end of the film, Danny has absorbed enough pain to know that disaster can strike, and wherever there is beauty there is also likely to be terror. William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer: There are many exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking it is not a good idea to have a novelist adapt his own book for the movies. As an art form, the cinema is much closer to the short story than the novel, and the brutal surgery required to cram a big book into a small screenplay is a job best given to someone with more objectivity than the original author. Take, for instance, “Run of the Country.” This modern Irish drama is full of good performances, strong scenes and moody Irish scenery, but Shane Connaughton’s adaptation of his own novel is littered with so many incidents and so many themes (seemingly every aspect of the novel is here) that it never quite finds the narrow narrative line a movie requires to have much of an impact.


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