Rated: R for adult language, graphic violence, gore, intense images of torture, and sexual themes.
Genre: Supernatural Western drama thriller
Directed By: Ron Howard
Running Time: 2:10
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 9/12/04


What we got here is a failure of a story, a story that never really knows what it wants to be beneath the dull characters, lackluster plot, and jumbled story that just seems to ramble on and goes on way too long. The follow-up from "A Beautiful Mind", Howard spins a Western yarn this time with an attempted twist that is just awkward. Is this a western with a supernatural theme or a supernatural film set in the west? No one knows and neither do the writers. Ron Howard is a pretty good director, and he's good in establishing the old west motif here with a setting that is not only stunning to look at but grim as well. Howard can create tension and atmosphere with the best of them, and much of the scenes including the possession sequence, is very well done with some great editing.

Aaron Eckhart considering his very small role here, is great for what he's given, also there are some very well done performances particularly from Jenna Boyd who happens to be the best character here with a lot of exuberance, heroism and charm as she follows her mother to look for her sister. Cate Blanchett who is always very good does well here with a lot of depth as the main heroine. All the while, the story, though derivative, kept me interested all the way through with some really good sequences including the possession sequence, the failed rescue attempt by an Indian, and a nice last scene in which Jones' character attempts to stop the villain.

I was very anxious to watch this because well, I'm a fan of Howard, Blanchett, Eckhart, and Evan Rachel Wood, so I wanted to like this a lot, and I was hopeful Howard would spin us at least a decent western yarn at best, but again I repeat, after this ended I was never sure what I'd seen or what to exactly categorize this as, and I didn't really care, because there's not a lot here. Blanchett, plays an independent religious medicine woman named Maggie Gilkeson who goes from town to town curing people and cares for her two daughters, one a young rambunctious, likable and strong girl (Jenna Boyd), the other a fiercely rebellious teen who is intent on leaving the house (Wood), the two don't really get along but they tolerate one another, and then there's Aaron Eckhart who doesn't really play a prominent role in the story, but he looks damn groovy as a cowboy, cleft and all, but there's a reason why he's not integral.

Regardless, he's the boyfriend, or... maybe the husband... well we're never really told exactly, but in drifts an Indian played by the one-dimensional Tommy Lee Jones whom is mysterious as all Indians are in this film and Eckhart seems to take a liking to him, but alas, he has a shady past with Gilkeson turning out to be her estranged father. He comes into the mix just in time for the situation, by the way. So when the girls and Eckhart's character set out on a journey, they're ambushed by Indians and Gilkeson treks to find them ultimately discovering a brutal massacre and only her youngest, Dot, has survived revealing Lilly was kidnapped by the clan. Now it's up to Gilkeson, Dot (who refuses to be left behind), and the uneasy recruitment of estranged her father to find out where her daughter has been taken, meanwhile Lilly is being held by the clan led by a mysterious demonic/voodoo doctor who wants to take the girls and sell them as prostitutes.

This would be a sympathetic situation would any of the characters be likable, but there's not one in the bunch. Each and every character in the group except one is pretty much unlikable. Maggie, the heroine is annoying, boring, and never usually has an interesting scene or piece of dialogue considering she should be the one we want to root for, Wood plays a horrible character who whines and cries and ruins escapes without any brains or smarts. As a matter of fact no one here plays anything with a bit of brains. Halfway through the journey Dot holds a shiny, metal, gold set of binoculars giving away their location to Indians whom they're attempting to hide from, Maggie leaves something behind causing her to have a spell put on her by the voodoo ringleader which makes us question if she has any brains at all, and then there's Jones who plays a white man living as an Indian.

But I ask... honestly... is there any difference between Jones' character here and the character he's played in his last seven movies, I mean isn't Jones's character here an extension of his usual Authoritarian chasing the fugitive roles? I've really had it up to here with those roles, and here it's no different. He cannot play an Indian and he just simply isn't convincing nor is he interesting. Even his name is irritating Chaa-duu-ba-its-iidan which means "Shit for Luck". There's honestly a story behind the name but it made me laugh because for such a long name with five words how can it only mean three words? It felt like that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he speaks a full sentence of native language and it ends up reading "What's up Doc?"

Regardless, there's not one character in the bunch who we want to root for, or succeed, except for Dot, played by Jenna Boyd who is really good in the movie, I bought her scenes, I felt her grief and I liked her surefire strength, plus she has some good emotional scenes, so why didn't we see a lot more of her? And why didn't we feel her emotions with the other characters? Within the mirage of western scenery and supernatural themes this becomes yet another post-feminist female empowerment tale in which the women are smart and noble and the men are bad, incompetent and scary. We get Jones who was an abusive father, Val Kilmer who has a cameo as an incompetent military leader, Eckhart who has no real power in the household, "El Brujo" the Indian voodoo doctor who is ugly and scary, and the Indians in general who follow the clichés and stereotypes as bloodthirsty savages etc, etc.

The main flaw though? This is never sure what it wants to be. How long I have sung this song, but alas, you shall hear the tune once more, it doesn't know what it's trying to accomplish. Is is a supernatural film? We have a supernatural character and themes. Is it a Western? It's set during the old west and has a lot of gun slinging and Indians and the usual fare. Is it a self discovery tale with Blanchett? I was never sure in the final moments and the writers don't help the audience figure it out because within the dimensions of confusion, and vapid situations there's a level of uncertainty with a screenplay and story that has no direction and characters we can't root for. Did I mention there's another cameo from Howard's brother, Clint?

While enjoyable for the fact of good directing and acting, this is just a lackluster exercise in the old west with a unlikable characters, a very derivative story, that is boring, too long, and very uninteresting.




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