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Sunday 26 February 2017

REVIEWS: 'The Runway' by Paul Whittington

Paul Whitington

Jamie Kierans and
Demian Bichir in The Runway
Jamie Kierans and Demian Bichir in The Runway

In ways, Ian Power's comic drama The Runway feels like it might have been made in the mid-80s. It has that strange brand of quirky, jokey gentleness that distinguishes most Irish films of that period, and although its plot includes a plane crash and a mysterious stranger, you're always pretty sure that nothing very bad is going to happen.

Written and directed by Ian Power, The Runway is loosely based on a bizarre incident that took place in Mallow, Co Cork, in 1983. In April of that year, a Mexican pilot called Ruben Ocano crash-landed his Gulfstream jet on Mallow racecourse.

The locals rallied to help build an emergency runway that would enable Mr Ocano to take off, and in the interim he became a feted local celebrity and even officiated at a beauty contest.

In The Runway, the pilot in question is a rather less cuddly and more mysterious South American called Ernesto (Demián Bichir), who plummets to earth near the small town of Drumasheen.

His arrival is noticed by Paco (Jamie Kierans), a lonely 10-year-old with a fertile imagination who initially thinks the visitor has arrived from outer space.

Paco lives with his loving but often absent single mother Grace (Kerry Condon), who is horrified when she discovers her son has snuck a large Hispanic man into her house.

But Grace soon gets used to Ernesto, and so does the whole town, and, though he speaks little English, the community come together to build him a runway.

The dramatic heart of The Runway is the touching relationship between Ernesto and Paco: the boy has pidgin Spanish, and becomes the aviator's unofficial interpreter, but also sees the Colombian as a replacement for his absent father.

There's an appealing sweetness to the film's tone, and some genuinely funny moments. Kierans is excellent as the indomitable Paco, and a strong supporting cast includes Pat Laffan, David Pearse and the invariably excellent Condon.

The Runway only falters when it's required to justify its storyline, and the film ends rather shakily, but there's a lot to enjoy.

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