Top positive review
a fascinating movie -- is it a Western at all?
on 21 March 2016
I would call this movie a metaphysical thriller in a Western setting (I use "metaphysical" loosely!), and it seems to be exploring the nature of masculinity -- maybe just American masculinity, although there isn't a great deal of cultural specificity. What is specific is the natural setting, and the director, David von Ancken, makes sure that all the four elements get their due weight. We have the mountains and the plains and the desert, and we have men dependent on beasts -- horses -- and perhaps pretty much reduced to beasts themselves. The question the movie wants us to consider, I think, is the what basic masculine nature is. The Civil War has robbed the two main characters of their families, so they are now isolated agents in a natural setting, enacting the roles of predator and prey, and the whole movie is basically a chase-movie. The idea that a man without a family is a destructive agent is very strong, and the idea of the family as the basic civilizing building-block seems to be taken for granted in the screenplay. Although both men lost their families in the war, Carver, an ex-Confederate officer (Liam Neeson), blames the Yankee Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) for deaths of his family, so he is the pursuer. Gideon is on the run from him, with his main motive being self-preservation pure and simple. Gideon is a very capable man, especially with a knife, and although Carver has hired three men to help him hunt Gideon down, it's no easy task. The movie runs an hour and forty minutes, which is a long time for a chase, and it's to the credit of all concerned that it holds our attention. The suspense isn't just a matter of whether or not Carver will catch Gideon but of what they will have to say, if anything, if that happens. To say that they're taciturn on the journey is an understatement. That suspense is enough to hold our interest, but the photography, often spectacular, helps. And what's striking is that although Carver believes himself to have been wronged -- and he HAS been wronged -- our sympathies tend to be drawn to Gideon, not because he makes any excuses for himself and not just because of his resourcefulness, but mainly because he just doesn't come across as a bad man. Carver isn't bad exactly, but the viewer (at least this viewer) isn't drawn to him.
As the movie goes on, what we began to see as perhaps a rather conventional Western story becomes stranger, and in the course of the pursuit, Carver and Gideon meet a few other people, and they seem to represent possibilities of ways of life to which the chase has blinded Gideon and Carver. There's a settler family and a band of pilgrims, and they seem plausibly generic, but one realizes that perhaps they aren't when, a little later both men meet a mysterious Indian (Wes Studi) and an itinerant snake-oil saleswoman (Anjelica Huston), both of whom seem to prompt Carver and Gideon to different kinds of self-understanding. An aura of the supernatural clings to both -- are they visions? or symbols? or "real'?
I won't give away the ending. Suffice it to say that the actors are splendid throughout, and while one hardly is surprised by Neeson, an actor of protean range, one is surprised by Pierce Brosnan, whose character here is one that I would never have imagined him as being able to play convincingly. My reservation? It's a bit long -- which is to say it dragged in a couple of places -- but it's an intelligent, well-shot, and well-acted piece of movie making.