09 February 2007

Broken Trail

Directed by: Walter Hill

Walter Hill’s new film fits neatly into the Westerns canon with its Deadwood-esque visual style (Mr. Hill directed the pilot episode of the series), a Peckinpah-esque climactic shoot-out, and irritating musical montages that echo Butch Cassidy. The film, or more accurately the miniseries as it was originally broadcast in two parts on AMC, tells the story of an old man (Robert Duvall) and his nephew (Thomas Hayden Church) as they move several hundred horses from Oregon to Wyoming. Along the way, five virginal Chinese maidens happen to wind up in their custody and they take ‘em along for the ride.

Duvall, who also produced, graciously hangs back in Part One and allows Church's character to drive the film; he steals the show in a fine performance, expressed almost entirely, in reaction shots, through his glaring eyes. The two men carry the film because it falls flat whenever female characters appear on the screen at all. Hill showed himself to be something of a master of male relationships under duress in films like The Warriors and Southern Comfort, but apparently he don’t know a damn thing about girls. They are all two-dimensional, nothing more than sympathetic victims or, in the case of “Big Rump Kate”, a bombastic supervillian. Characters, whether male or female, good or bad, ought to be a little more complex than that.

There are moments of originality, intelligence, and emotionality, so it would be unfair to write the film off as just another generic cliché. At its best, however, the film just gently rocks back and forth between failure and success like a rickety rocking chair.

Grade: B

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