Thanks to Robert Duvall's re-edit!
Fortunately I read reviews - from the Boston Globe, the Washington
Post, and the Houston Chronicla only after seeing Broken Trail.
I am so glad that Robert Duvall re-edited the film to make it more a
time/place and character piece than an "action film." Unlike the
Washington Post reviewer I think that is the strength of the piece
instead of a weakness.
Unlike the Boston Globe reviewer I found Thomas Hayden Church's laconic
delivery to be exactly suited to his character.
I was delighted by Broken Trail, and agree with the Salon reviewer who
proclaimed it to be "almost as good as Lonesome Dove... and coming from
me that's high praise indeed."
If you found either the pace of the work or Thomas Hayden Church's
vocal delivery to be dull, either you weren't paying attention or I
don't care to meet you: I'm sure you'd be a little too dull for my
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timeless movie, movie for the whole family .
Lyrical, Sweeping Western a Triumph...
"Broken Trail", a dream project for producer/star Robert Duvall, and
AMC's first original film, is the spiritual heir to Kevin Costner's
2003 "Open Range" (also starring Duvall), and one of the most moving,
involving Westerns of recent years.
With a charismatic, extremely effective performance by Thomas Haden
Church, as Duvall's long-estranged nephew, the film is one of only a
handful of Westerns that combine epic sweep, superb characterization,
and an understanding of the 'Real West', without shortchanging decency,
or respect of an individual's worth. The era was hard, justice could be
swift and brutal, and Duvall, as aging but upright Prentice Ritter,
lives by his own rules; to protect the helpless in his care, to respect
others, and to be unafraid to resort to violence, if necessary. Tom
Harte (Church), despite some family history problems with his uncle,
lives by the same code, and the two men, driving a herd of horses from
Oregon to Wyoming to raise cash for a ranch, become the 'saviors' of
five young Chinese women, sold into prostitution, who inadvertently
fall into their hands.
These are good men, in a jaded world, and their journey picks up other
'strays', as well as the women; young Virginian fiddler Heck Gilpin (an
engaging Scott Cooper), is rescued by Tom in a saloon; aging Chinese
laborer Lung Hay (Donald Fong), and careworn prostitute Nola John (the
wonderful Greta Scacchi) join the group after Tom saves the Chinese
women from rapists, in a boarding house/bordello. While neither Ritter
and Harte were overjoyed at the strange direction the drive was taking,
they would not allow harm to fall on 'innocents', and the group bonds
into a warm 'family', with Nola and Ritter finding a mature attraction
between each other, and Tom and Sun Foy/#3 (Gwendoline Yeo, who speaks
only Mandarin, in the film), gently falling in love.
Danger is never far behind them, however, as brutal ex-con 'Big Ears'
(Chris Mulkey), with a score to settle with Nola, and a 'contract' to
return the Chinese women to whorehouse owner Kate 'Big Rump' Becker
(Rusty Schwimmer), trails them, leading a gang of killers...
While the film is long (240 minutes), director Walter Hill, an old hand
at Westerns (his "The Long Riders" is one of my favorites), keeps the
story constantly engrossing, and Duvall and Church have a warmth and
authenticity as the characters that will stay with you, long after the
Shot in the Canadian Rockies, "Broken Trail" combines grandeur and
intimacy seamlessly, has moments of great humor to lighten the drama,
explosive action, and a bittersweet sense of nostalgia...
It is, simply, superb!.