Directed By Thomas Bezucha
Starring – Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville
The Plot – Following the loss of their son (Ryan Bruce), a retired sheriff (Costner) and his wife (Lane) leave their Montana ranch to rescue their young grandson from the clutches of a dangerous family living off the grid in the Dakotas.
Rated R for violence
– Stirring direction. Bezucha is mostly known as a writer, but it’s clear that his experience helming films has taught him a lot since his previous directing efforts like “Monte Carlo” or “The Family Stone”. For instance, it’s his aesthetic touches in presentation that immediately warm and welcome audiences in, asserting with a handheld photography scheme that synthetically immerses us into the intimate moments of this family’s trials and tribulations. Aside from this, the cold and greying color scheme exerted in the movie’s cinematography is one that constantly overwhelms the movie’s emotional subtext in its characters and backstories, serving as a visible void that this couple simply can’t escape from. It proves that Thomas kept his finger on the pulse of this family’s psychological presence throughout the entirety of the film, and conjured such tragedy into a color correction that is hypnotically decaying in all of the right intentions.
– Generational crossroads. There are many genre’s that this movie borrows from, but the overwhelming majority stems from it being a western that highlights all of the best in old school western cinema seen through the creative eyes of a contemporary domestic issue. This not only allows the material to transcend its visually obvious but unclear time-stamping of the movie’s period piece in favor of a theme that is expandingly generational, but also crafts it in a way that plays to the strengths of its prime genre because of such. For instance, the burden of isolating weighs heavily on our dual protagonists, as well as the grandson that they are trying to bring home. Likewise, the thickness of the conflict conjured up during a few of the movie’s tense sequences plays out with the kind of hand-to-hand physicality that can easily be lifted from any one of Liam Neeson’s Taken films, yet is articulated in lens with the kind of slow-plodding character perspective shots that simultaneously build before the big blow-off, giving us plenty of food for thought for possible success towards a genre of films that is few and far between in contemporary times.
– Touches of horror. This is where the movie gets especially creative, as the tonal maturity during the film’s climatic second act raises the stakes in ways that felt familiar for a student of horror like myself. This is not only cool to see Costner and Lane in such an unorthodox encompassing, but also one that serves the movie well in articulating the kind of morally challenged antagonists that this couple is tasked in dealing with. It brings forth the most uncomfortable dinner table sequence that I’ve seen since 2000’s “Meet the Parents”, but in a way that amplifies the suffocating atmosphere with layers of dialogue that progresses the uncertainty tenfold. If this isn’t enough, the film isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty with a series of devastating blows and altering hack’s that make the most of its desired rating, and help to preserve an element of consequences and stakes for the movie that prove anyone involved is expendable.
– Captivating performances. There are no shortage of them throughout the characters, big and small, that make up this talented ensemble, but the chemistry of Lane and Costner resonate seamlessly in their many indulging exchanges. The two of them feel so naturally perfect that they communicate with one another, wearing the baggage of past decisions and character flaws subtly, all the while preserving the bond in love that practically leaps off of the page. It is especially rewarding to see how each of them deals with grief, as this is where Lane’s Margaret tends to take control, where Costner’s stern-but-sentimental George often wallows in a ball of unchangeable consequence. Lesley Manville is also transfixing as the head of this crooked family, chewing up as much scenery each time she pops up, without actually compromising the integrity or consistency of the scene she shares. It’s very much an against-type role for her that she loses herself in constantly, outlining an antagonist who we hate to love, and love to hate.
– Encompassing musical score. The consistency of control that composer Michael Giacchino exerts on the entirety of this picture is remarkable enough, but when you factor in the complexities of his work inserted, it’s only then that you can commend the man’s emotional depth in instrumentals. Because the film conveys an abundance of emotions, Giacchino toes a finely defined line of progression and maturity that helps the transition sequences evolve naturally, doing so with the kind of mixing volume that keeps the accompaniment from taking over a scene completely, beyond the actor’s capabilities. It makes Michael a member of the cast who is nearly as important as that of Lane or Costner, and stirs a sentimentality to the film’s general outline that audibly narrates the trauma’s that this family has gone through, and continue to go through because of a bad choice that was entirely out of their control.
– Timely production value. As previously mentioned, this is a time period drama, but one that doesn’t get too lost in the details that such a designation could afford. What is obvious, however, is the fashion trends and set designs, which speak to a designated clarity that is both timely and geographically prominent. The abundance of flannel costumes, complete with big-button lapels, is simultaneously persistent in a man and woman’s attire, but the classic 60’s Chevrolet automobiles that frequent the movie’s visual aesthetic is the real treat here. Complete with many interior shots giving way to the all leather interiors, the movie earns a badge of authenticity that really transports you decades into the past, and alludes to where the movie’s minimal budget was spent to bring forth fruit results.
– Rushed story beats. This is especially prevalent during the movie’s opening act, which not only speeds through the circumstances of the loss in question in the plot, but also flashes years in advance with very little warning or exposition to feed into what is taking shape. I don’t need dialogue that spoon feeds me what is taking shape before my eyes, but some colorful context could help translate more coherently what we’re seeing. The movie clocks in at 109 minutes, and considering there are a few sluggish sequences during the movie’s second and third acts, I wish more time was spent on the initial set-up, which high points for the family should be used to measure the extent of the tragedy when they suffer such a loss. It convolutes the initial engagements with these characters, and sloppily executes what between them is worth latching onto, especially since the script can’t be bothered to illustrate its grief for more than a scene.
– Lack of urgency. Easily the biggest weakness in the film for me, and one that dramatically compromised the key conflict to the movie’s evolution. It’s especially prominent during the second act, where a cross country trip to rescue an abused little boy is sidetracked in favor of several stops that only serve as audible reminders for what’s to come. It gets frustrating when you consider Giacchino’s score, as well as the the characters surrounding our protagonist couple keeps alluding to this danger of a family off in the distance, but one that our movie feels distracted from. For my money, I feel like there should’ve been more attention paid to this element of the script, especially considering the movie’s marketing sells this as a thriller, which it so evidently is not. There’s two scenes in the movie with some finely defined dramatic tension, but the majority of the screenplay falls flat on what it needed to balance the uncertainty, and makes much of the finished product uneven from the stakes it constantly promoted.
– Leaps in logic. I had a couple of problems within the movie’s physicality that ranged from character psychology to believability in what’s transpiring. On the latter, the physical sequences are obviously shot in close proximity and edited tightly together to hide what didn’t translate well to the screen. In terms of psychology, there’s many character decisions and long pauses in the heat of the moment that fed into the convenience that certain characters are blessed with, particularly that of a Costner and Manville staircase altercation that brings forth more questions from her perspective the longer I think about it. These underwhelming issues distort and conventionalized a final conflict so brutally that to me still cements the second act dinner table meeting as the scene’s key climax. After that, it’s an array of poor decisions and phoned-in physicality that constantly took me out of the element of the sequence.
– Character choices. This kind of feeds into my rushed story beats section, but one that branches out to an entirely different set of problems seen through the eyes of the many characters the film introduces us to. One such character is an Indian native of the land (Played by Booboo Stewart), who is given an abundance of exposition and backstory, and then only used as a convenience to keep Costner and Lane in town when they’re at war with this family. The imbalance only gets worse from there, as the family in question are given table scraps of backstory and influence to sell our investment, as well as the immense shadow the movie casts toward their legend that they never fill in physical, visual evidence. Hell, Lane and Costner’s daughter-in-law (Played by Kayli Carter) is only brought to light when the movie absolutely requires her to, a fact that is easily the biggest difference between novel and film that the latter tragically undersells.
My Grade: 6/10 or C+