This contemporary Irish Western starts in the slums of Dublin, where Papa Riley (Gabriel Byrne), once a leader of a nomadic tribe of travelers, has settled with his two young sons, Ossie (Ciaran Fitzgerald) and Tito (Ruaidhrf Conroy). The death of his wife, Mary, in childbirth has broken Riley and turned him against the road. It’s a glum life for the boys. Then screenwriter Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot) switches gears and sends the film into the realm of magic realism. Mary’s father, Grandpa Ward (David Kelly), shows up with a magnificent white horse. The boys bond with the animal, and when the police take their gift away, Ossie and Tito kidnap the horse and ride off into the countryside. In searching for them, Riley reconnects with life and the travelers, including the sexy and resourceful Kathleen (Ellen Barkin).
With only a few detours into blarney, Sheridan and director Mike Newell (Enchanted April) steer a steady course to the heart. It’s fun to watch Kathleen put a spark back into Riley’s haunted eyes. Byrne and Barkin, married in real life, give their roles a piercing urgency. And cinematographer Tom Sigel catches the mournful beauty of an Irish winter. But it’s the scenes of the boys on horseback, riding this moonbeam of a movie to a fairy-tale ending, that provide the essential ingredient: a sense of wonder.