Into the West starts with such high doses of mystical blarney -- earnest Irish folk music, a magical white horse -- that it threatens to take an early and permanent detour into preciousness. But that's not a very likely outcome for a script by unblinking realist Jim Sheridan, even at his most fanciful. In fact, in the capable hands of director Mike Newell, Sheridan's story of two boys on a journey of discovery is surprisingly grounded, earning greater suspension of disbelief with every stride deeper into the Irish countryside. (And what a countryside, as seen through the lens of DP Tom Sigel.) With these combined storytelling skills, a fairy-tale horse targeted toward its destination as if by remote control is not only easy to swallow, but tastes sweet going down. Child actors Ciaran Fitzgerald and Ruaidhri Conroy submit performances that are captivating and true, especially impressive because they have only each other to play off for large stretches of the movie. Their interactions are key to sustaining tension in a dozen different scenes. The supporting work of Gabriel Byrne as their father shouldn't be overlooked, either. Byrne goes against type as a layabout and low-level grifter, a generally uneducated man whose intense grief and resignation make the mere prospect of fatherly attentiveness seem impossible. Yet he's got as much to learn on this journey toward Tir na nOg as his sons, and as the movie progresses, it's clear exactly how much Byrne has invested us in his character. The result is a movie with its sorrows and its triumphs, its quiet and its whimsy, neither too heavy for children nor too slight for its deeper-thinking audience.
by Derek Armstrong review