The versatile British director Peter Yates once made American tough-guy movies like Bullitt and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, as well as such quirky little comedies as Breaking Away.
Now he's joined the Irish charm cult.
The Run of the Country is a coming-of-age story set in an Irish village so green and picturesque that even the cows look poetic. There we meet eighteen-year-old Danny (New Yorker Matt Keeslar, complete with a freshly installed brogue), a mama's boy whose mama has just died and who can't get along with his gruff, police-sergeant father (Albert Finney). Danny's rowdy best friend, Prunty (Anthony Brophy), gets him drunk at the pub. Then they get into a brawl. Then Danny falls in love with lovely Annagh (Victoria Smurfit), who lives across the border to the north. Then Annagh gets pregnant. Her family gets mad--and I mean mad. Then one of the main characters drowns in a sludge pit.
There's a cockfighting scene, which demonstrates the tragic capacity for inhumanity, and a tar-and-feathers scene, which demonstrates the tragic persistence of eighteenth-century customs. In the end, Danny grows up, finds a way to share grief with his Da, then traipses off to college.
Adapted from a Shane Connaughton novel (he co-wrote My Left Foot), the film is admirably sincere but wildly overwrought--qualities it shares with some other recent Irish works. The Playboys (another Connaughton screenplay) and The Secret of Roan Inish come to mind.
One of the world's great actors, Finney (who worked with Yates in The Dresser) puts in another exemplary performance as the ham-handed father, and Brophy adds a spark as the scruffy, mischievous, loyal Prunty. But Keeslar and Smurfit give us enough moon-faced Romeo and Juliet rehash in the first eight minutes of their encounter to last for a while.
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There's a great difference between sentimentality and romanticism, but this charmer doesn't quite get it.