Directed by Robert Benton
Written by Robert Benton and David Newman
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown, Jim Davis, David Huddleston
Drew Dixon (Brown) is a religious Ohio farm boy trying to avoid being pulled into service in the Civil War. After evading the recruiters, he heads for Virginia City. After running into some trouble, Drew joins up with a gang of young men looking to evade the law and head West. Their leader is the boastful and brazen young Jake Rumsey (Bridges). Together these young men are trying to survive as they evade outlaws and marshals on their way West.
This film was directed by three-time Oscar winner, Robert Benton (Places in the Heart). This film marked his first time in the director’s chair. Benton also helped David Newman (Bonnie and Clyde) in writing the story. The cast includes Oscar winner Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Barry Brown (Daisy Miller), Jim Davis (Rio Lobo), and David Huddleston (The Big Lebowski). After being released, this movie earned praise from major critics like Roger Ebert and Dennis Schwartz.
The story is a unique attempt at using an episodic format to encapsulate the bigger arc of the film. The issue with this attempt was the uneven feel of the movie in its entirety. While some of these moments are nicely written and compelling, others seem to lead to nowhere. The characters are interesting, but it’s almost as though the audience isn’t allowed to know more about them even when it would have made their moments more powerful. This becomes a major missed opportunity in terms of the film as a whole. Even as the tension builds, the movie offers little in the way of payoff. Despite some great moments, the writing definitely missed the mark in this movie.
The writing might have left a few too many holes in this movie, but the acting does a good job from beginning to end. It’s unfortunate that Barry Brown didn’t live long enough to expand his career. His performance in this one is great. He managed to bring out the naive side of his character in a way that seems to adjust to the increasing hardships in the story. Opposite Brown is the incredible Jeff Bridges. Even at this point in his career, Bridges seemed to transform the movie with his acting. The work by the rest of the cast is also really nicely done.
The visuals and the rest of the technical aspects of this movie are nicely done. The camera work and cinematography take full advantage of the Kansas countryside locations. The score is simplistic and sometimes a bit repetitive, but it works well with the way this film was put together. I’m not sure where the story was cut short and where it was the editor trimming the action, but this does feel visually incomplete at times.
This is a movie that feels incomplete and unfortunately unfulfilled. Despite the great aspects of the movie as a whole, the story just doesn’t do enough. If you’re a fan of Westerns, or drama this is one you might enjoy despite the flaws. I would also suggest this to anyone who loves Jeff Bridges since it’s a good example of how much talent he has. Unfortunately, this won’t work for most people since it just doesn’t follow through on the premise. I give this one 2.7 out of 5 stars.