(director/writer: Gabe Polsky; screenwriters: novel by John Williams/Liam Satre Meloy; cinematographer: David Gallego; editor: Nick Pezzillo; music: Leo Birenberg; cast: Nicolas Cage (Miller), Fred Hechinger (Will Andrews), Rachel Keller (Prostitute), Xander Berkeley (Charley, cook), Jeremy Bobb (Fred), Paul Raci (McDonald); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gabe Polsky, Molly Conners, Amanda Bowers, Will Clarke, Andy Mayson; Altitude Film/Saban Films; 2022)
“Uneven, but good enough to survive the hunt.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The atmospheric, surreal Western is set at the Colorado frontier, and comes at a time the buffalo nearly became extinct. It’s about the wide-eyed young Harvard drop-out, Will Andrews (Fred Hechinger), who in 1874 joins a team of surly buffalo hunters in a foolhardy adventure. It’s based on the acclaimed 1960 Western novel by John Williams and is co-written by the director Gabe Polsky (“Red Penquins”/”Red Army”) and Liam Satre Meloy.
At Butcher’s Crossing, in Kansas, Will notes he’s in a place he’s not suited for but feels he is up for the adventure, as he’s obsessed with the wild west. He seeks out the buffalo hunter McDonald (Paul Raci), someone his father once did a favor for and therefore expects one from him in return. But McDonald rejects the kid, who then signs on as a novice hunter for a team of rough-edged buffalo hunters led by the gruff and bossy bald-headed veteran Miller (Nicolas Cage, in one of his more subdued unhinged performances). Miller’s team includes his right-hand man, the one-armed, devout Christian and drunkard cook, Charley (Xander Berkeley), and the prickly asshole buffalo-skinner Fred (Jeremy Bobb). Also on board is Miller’s prostitute friend (Rachel Keller), who gets it up the ass from a buffalo.
Miller takes on the kid when he finances the hunt and thereby eases off riding him when imagining how lucrative the hides will be. They venture into the dangerous Colorado Territories, in a secret valley Miller knows, to do their hunting among plenty of buffalo.
The hunt lasts less than a year and is nasty, with the hunters getting testy with each other, as the kid matures and sheds his softness, now vowing to return home and become a lawyer.
The hunt serves as a metaphor for the world and how corrupted it has become.
The film is uneven, but good enough to survive the hunt.
It played at the Toronto Film Festival.
REVIEWED ON 2/11/2023 GRADE: B-