Review of The Runway

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The people of Ireland's County Cork come to the aid of a South American pilot who has crash landed in their town.
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Movie Review: "The Runway" --

Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: December 2, 2011
Directed by: Ian Power
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Stars: 3 out of 5

"The Runway" is a small Irish indie film that is long on laughs and had the good fortune to get Mexican actor Demián Bichir to star in it before he became famous. In the film, Bichir plays Ernesto, an airplane pilot from Colombia who has an emergency and has to crash land his plane in Ireland. He ends up in Drumalee, a tiny village in County Cork full of pleasant, helpful people.

Ernesto does not speak a word of English. Fortunately, he soon finds someone who does speak a little bit of Spanish. Unfortunately, that person is Paco (Jamie Kierans), who is just nine years old. Ernesto eagerly begins to speak to him in Spanish despite his young age in the hopes that Paco will translate and help him get back home to Columbia. Paco mistranslates much of what Ernesto says, some of it on purpose, which leads his fellow Drumalee residents to take pity on Ernesto. They aim to help him repair his plane so he can return home.

The problem with this plan is that once the plane is fixed (if it can be fixed at all), there is no place for it to take off from. There is no airport, runway or airstrip in Drumalee or anywhere nearby. This doesn't seem to bother the jovial villagers, who decide to build a runway from scratch to aid Ernesto in his quest to return home.

It should be said that the movie is set in 1983, when Drumalee and the surrounding area are experiencing a huge recession. Many of the villagers are out of work, so they have plenty of time to try and build a runway, even though they don't have the experience needed to do it. When people are unemployed and bored, there are few things they won't try to keep themselves occupied.

The whole village is abuzz with thoughts of helping Ernesto get back home. While this is all going on, Ernesto and Paco are becoming closer. Though Paco's limited Spanish skills make it hard to talk, the two manage to communicate in other ways. Their nonverbal cues are excellent and occasionally hilarious, making their budding father-son relationship believable.

Another relationship that is taking off at the same time is the one between Ernesto and Grace (Kerry Condon), who is Paco's mother. The pretty but frazzled single mom works long hours and doesn't seem to have a lot of suitors. When Ernesto takes a liking to her, she is equally smitten, although wary. She has been stung before in love by Paco's dad.

Paco loves the thought of Grace and Ernesto getting together because he has begun to really look up to him as a role model. It turns out that his father is a Spaniard who left them when Paco was very young. This is why his Spanish is so choppy because he has not practiced it for quite some time. Since Ernesto is a man and speaks fluent Spanish, he reminds Paco of his father. It is almost as if Paco is trying to replace his father's memory with Ernesto, which could end very badly for the impressionable and sensitive young boy.

Bichir and Condon have good chemistry together, but the real gem of the film is the chemistry between Paco and Ernesto. The audience will likely be anxious to see how their burgeoning relationship ends up.

In the meantime, while Paco, Grace and Ernesto figure out their complicated triangle, the villagers are busy working on the plane and runway. Plenty of laughs occur as some very unqualified people begin working on the task. Things seem to be headed toward a predictably happy ending when it is revealed that Ernesto may not be all that he seems.

There is a reason why Ernesto is not happy about how long it is taking to get out of town. Other than the fact that he is extraordinarily far from home, there are other reasons for the desire to have a quick exit. As those reasons are unveiled, the audience may no longer know whether they want the innocent young Paco to end up with Ernesto as his new dad.

Ian Power directed the film from his own screenplay. Though it is loosely based on true events that happened in Ireland, there is a lot added in for dramatic purposes. Power shows a deft hand in balancing the dramatic and the funny, which is no easy feat. He also gets great performances out of all his leads, especially Kierans as Paco. The fact that it was his first-ever movie role makes his performance that much more impressive. He has a real shot at a great acting career if he keeps it up, unlike his co-star Bichir, who makes acting look easy in this charming, funny film.