Friday, August 31, 2007

Broken Trail (2006, Walter Hill)

There seems to be a strain of hybrid Western, existing between the old-guard oaters of John Wayne and the bleaker, more self-aware reinventions that sprung up starting in the late sixties. Like its spiritual brother Open Range- and to a lesser extent the films of Sam Peckinpah- Broken Trail contains some blood and brutality, but it nonetheless has a moral code to it (loyalty, caring for women and the helpless, etc.), and its tone isn't so much despair as elegy. A lot of the charm comes from the leisurely pacing- the baddie don't even show up until an hour in, giving us time to immerse ourselves in the lives of the heroes and to enjoy their relationship before the plot comes a-callin'. Mostly Broken Trail is just a rock-solid Western, with an entertaining old-lion performance from Robert Duvall- also in Open Range- and a surprisingly effective taciturn one from Thomas Haden Church. Broken Trail touches on some unsavory ideas about the old West- our government's eradication of Native Americans, the selling of young Chinese girls into sex slavery, and so on- but the film treads lightly, with Hill satisfied to simply make a good cowboy yarn. And it's a damn good one, truth be told, which is too rare a breed nowadays, no matter what strain of cowboy movie you're talking about. Rating: 8 out of 10.

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