“Nuthin’ ever happened around here”, mutters Paco, a 9 year-old in Drumaleen–a small village in County Cork, Ireland. And when something does happen, it seems Paco (Jamie Kierans making his film debut) is the only one who knows how to handle it. The story kicks off with Ernesto (Demian Bichir) crash landing his plane into the small town. Not knowing an ounce of English, the foreign pilot needs the help of Paco to translate (sort of) and get the villagers to rally behind him–and use all of the excitement that has been hibernating in them for a long time.
The Runway stays loyal to the formula of past Irish cinema–a feel-good tone that underscores even the dramatic moments, and a story that doesn’t need to be complex in order to be captivating. Based on a true story (kind of), Paco instantly befriends the mysterious Ernesto to the adamant disapproval of his mother, Grace (Kerry Condon). It’s clear that Paco wears the pants that would otherwise belong to his absent father. But somehow that’s all right, because his mother is pretty fierce herself. Kierans is impressive in a busy role, that is in a word, manipulative. Already knowing more Spanish than anybody else in Ireland, Paco “translates” for Ernesto and tells the town just what they need to hear in order to help, as well as celebrate a hero.
Writer and director Ian Power has done a great job here. His pairing of unlikely friends is perfect for a few funny scenes between the two, and a few emotional exchanges as well. It’s been said that Power looks to Steven Spielberg for influence, and that’s quite clear in his first feature film since 2004. If you aren’t watching closely enough, you might mistake the plane crash for an alien spacecraft landing, and Ernesto for E.T. Power’s use of the beautiful scenery is also something to be appreciated. What would be so great about an Irish film that didn’t make use of its unique setting?
Demian Bichir (Che, A Better Life) is absolutely magnificent in the role of Ernesto. Communicating feelings and even opinions with just his face (an ability, naturally, that any actor should possess) is something that Bichir has mastered. It’s often unnecessary to read the subtitles to know what he’s trying to say. It’s just remarkable. So much so that even the Chief Engineer, played by James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) picks up a word or two. Even though we don’t know much truth about Ernesto, he is likable, funny, and just what this little town in Ireland needed.
The Runway will be released On Demand on July 18, and will have a limited theatrical release on July 20. Will you see The Runway? Tell us below, and please follow @MattBenincasa and @ScreenInvasion on Twitter!