Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Broken Trail (2006)

I'm a big fan of Walter Hill's work--in fact, I think he is one of the most underrated directors of all time.  He's the man responsible for hit movies like 48 Hrs. and The Warriors, as well as unheralded gems like The Long Riders, Southern Comfort, and The Driver.  Most of his pictures (to include those set in modern times) rely on western themes and feature tough heroes and despicable villains at odds over their individual views on justice and the law.  Until recently, I had never viewed Hill's 2006 miniseries Broken Trail, which originally aired on AMC.  I'm glad I finally gave it a look--Broken Trail is an excellent western, and excellent westerns are hard to come by these days.  Robert Duvall stars alongside Thomas Haden Church and it's no surprise that Duvall excels as an ornery cowpoke with a soft and gentle side he works very hard to conceal.  Church is a bit of a revelation here, though, and that did surprise me.  Tough, brooding, and direct, it's his performance as Tom Harte that really steals the show.  The picture is built around an attempt to drive horses across the country that becomes more and more complicated as various twists of fate test our capable leads.  Broken Trail contains a few riveting setpieces, but it relies more on character development and intrigue than shootouts to tell its story, and as such it won't appeal to those who measure a good western by how many shots are fired.  There's as much time devoted to the relationships forged with a handful of Asian women who wind up under the care of our hardened cowboys as there is time devoted to their struggles with the various bad men who they encounter along the way.  Broken Trail may disappoint those looking for an action-packed jaunt through the wild west, but it will greatly please those who want to see a detailed saga about good people faced with difficult choices.  I often put Hill's work on a pedestal, and I feel that Broken Trail ranks among his very best.  In fact, it may be his most thoughtful and moving effort, and I highly recommend it to those who enjoy a rich story with a lot of scope. 

Final Grade: A

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