December 09, 2011

The Runway (2010)

In the 1980s, the small Irish town of Mallow, in County Cork, witnessed an odd story: a Mexican private plane heading to Shannon, Ireland, got lost in the heavy mist and ran out of fuel. The pilot, captain Rubén Ocaña, found the town of Mallow and made a dramatic emergency landing on the town's racetrack. The plane owner, an important Mexican business man, followed his trip and left Ocaña the task to save the plane, which was practically undamaged. Ocaña remained in Mallow until a runway was built next to the racetrack. In the meantime, he became a local celebrity in Mallow and was invited to participate in the town's annual celebration (which were taking place when his plane landed), and the town gathered to witness him fly when the runway was finally finished. The story of the Mexican pilot who landed in Mallow became a fun anecdote, and inspired Irish filmmaker to make a film about it, "The Runway", which only takes the core Ocaña's adventure as basis to tell a story of two different persons who become the best of friends.

Set in the 1980s "The Runway" is the story of Paco (Jamie Kierans), a smart 9 years old kid who lives in the small town of Dromeleen in County Cork, where nothing special ever happens. Paco is the only son of Grace (Kerry Condon), and he has never known his father, though knowing that he is in Spain, Paco is decided to learn Spanish. One night, Paco listens that something has crashed in the hills near his house, and discovers that a plane has made an emergency landing there. The plane has only one pilot, Ernesto (Demián Bichir), who can only speak Spanish, so Paco helps him out and takes him home. Ernesto turns out to be a Colombian pilot, and while he has lived a colorful life, Paco's translation convinces the town of Dromeleen that it's important to help Ernesto return home. The town, stagnated in an economic depression, suddenly finds new life when they receive the mission of building a runway for the plane. And in the meantime, a friendship will born between the tough Colombian pilot and the little kid.

Taking only the concept of a Latinamerican pilot landing in a forgotten Irish town, director Ian Power develops a story that, while being a pretty basic tale of friendship at its core, is imbued with a heartfelt warm and a whimsical tone that elevates it from the rest. Certainly, Ian Power isn't discovering anything new in "The Runway", as the story has all the necessary elements its premise could deliver: the cultural clash and the fish out of water element, the revitalization of the forgotten town, the arrival of a father figure for the lonely kid and of course, a blooming love story. Nevertheless, Power plays all the right notes in his construction of a family comedy, managing to make the movie to feel fresh and vibrant despite its apparently formulaic craftsmanship. And the key for this is the way Power develops his set of characters, the situations they face, and the relationships between them. While Ernesto and Paco are the core of the story, every secondary character receives enough attention to create a well developed group.

The real strength in "The Runway" is found in the great skill director Ian Power shows in his storytelling. With a lighthearted tone and a perfect timing for comedy, Power weaves a charming story of friendship that unveils smoothly in all its simplicity. Like an old time comedies, "The Runway" is made up by a series of improbable situations, beginning with the plane crashing (which as said above, actually happened). And yet, Power avoids making it an artificial or shallow. He grounds it heavily in reality, and while lighthearted, it does briefly touches on the unemployment and boredom lived in the town, as well as in the troubles that Ernesto faces in Colombia. Power gives space to his characters to grow, and that's where this sensation of realism comes. Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is the extraordinary work of cinematographer P.J. Dillon, who gives "The Runway" a beautiful warm look that perfectly captures the tone of the story, and gives the film a decidedly Irish atmosphere.

As written above, the heart of "The Runway" is in its characters, and the cast who brings them to life is particularly of great quality. The young Jamie Kierans shines in the film as little Paco, and makes a remarkable performance for his young age as the kid so eagerly in need of a friend that goes to a great length to protect the foreign stranger. Mexican actor Demián Bichir is also pretty good as the Colombian pilot Ernesto, though he is certainly overshadowed by his young costar. Actress Kerry Condon shines in her role as Paco's mother, showcasing not only her great beauty, but also a natural timing for comedy. Unfortunately, Condon's screen time is very limited, and could had been explored better. Veteran actor James Cosmo plays Sutherland, an old engineer who always gives Paco a hard time, but who becomes more involved with his community when he begins to repair the plane. Another highlight is Donncha Crowley's scene stealing performance as the bumbling mayor of Dromoleen, more interested in public relations than on actually helping.

Ian Power's "The Runway" isn't exactly a groundbreaking comedy film, neither in its visual style nor on its story. It's actually a mix of drama and comedy done in a quite classic style of storytelling; perhaps one a bit too traditional for its own sake, but one that works nonetheless. Originality isn't one of the film's virtues, and yet, this apparent lack of originality is fully compensated by something that can only be described as an enormous amount of heart. In its simplicity, "The Runway" aims purely for emotions, and succeeds in its attempt without any obvious sign of cheap emotional manipulation. Certainly, ever since its origins film has been all about manipulating the viewer's emotions; but director Ian Power, by just letting his characters drive the film, manages to make this manipulation invisible, accessible and enjoyable. It could be said that Power doesn't dare to go beyond with his film to challenge the genre or reinventing the wheel; but in the end, "The Runway" has a defined goal and it achieves it without problem. It entertains.

Lighthearted, whimsical and decidedly Irish, Ian Power's "The Runway" is an old school melodrama about two different souls who find each other and make a bond. It's also a story about a town waking up again, and finally, a tale of breaking cultural barriers. In "The Runway", Power offers an optimist and uplifting story that seems to state that the idyllic Ireland so often seen in movies is not to be found on its landscapes landscapes or its past, but on its people. In the end, the people, regardless of their origin, becomes the center of "The Runway", as a group of unemployed workers help a plane to fly again. "The Runway" is a simple story told in a very simple way, but sometimes simplicity is the key.


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