I don't think that I'm that impressed with four-time, Oscar-nominated actor Ed Harris as a director. Eight years ago, Harris directed his first film Pollock (2000) to rave reviews, but, despite some interesting acting performances, I didn't think it was that great of a triumph.
I have similar feelings about about Harris' second feature. It's a Western with some interesting acting performances and some snappy writing, but I didn't think it was that great of a triumph. It's fair, but it didn't really blow me away.
It's been eight years since Ed Harris directed his last movie. Perhaps he shouldn't have waited so long. He's perhaps following in a long line of actors who have become directors and who in fact star in their own self-directed films. One of the most notable is Clint Eastwood. Another is Warren Beatty. A third is Kevin Costner whose cinematographer for Dancing With Wolves, Dean Semler, joins Harris for his second stab in the director's chair.
Harris, at this point, can't compare to Eastwood or Beatty. Harris is even miles behind Costner. Not that his work has to be epic in scale, but if you're going to do a western nowadays, you've either got to be epic with sweeping vistas or you've got to have a good amount of horse-chases and shootouts.
This film doesn't really have that. It attempts to do so. It hypes up its epic drama and teases us with the promise of intense shootouts, but it never delivers.
The love triangle and betrayal that you feel is going to play an integral role in the story fizzles out, or merely is brushed away with the dust. A shootout between Ed Harris' tough gunslinger named Virgil Cole and Jeremy Irons' outlaw businessman Bragg is over in two seconds. It climaxes in musical score than in actual visual bang-bang.
You don't ever really get a proper character arc for Bragg. He's propped up as this bad guy and we're supposed to take that at face value. There's no explanation of his character, no nuance. We could have learned more about him with just a few scenes more, but a few more scenes that explored the back story of the two main characters would have been much more appreciated. Harris focuses on his character perhaps a little too much.
Oscar-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises and Lord of the Rings) plays Cole's right-hand enforcer Everett Hitch. He's way more of an interesting character yet we're provided not that much in the way of a backstory for him either. We gather as Roger Ebert did is that there was this Lonesome Dove type of relationship between the two guys but we never learn any details for which. All we get is that he's good with a 8-gauge shotgun and he has a good vocabulary but that's it.
He says he doesn't like to drink and yet we see him drinking later on. We get a lot of direct, honest questions in the script, as to these men's characters, but never any real answers. As a result, I was left rather unsatisfied by the conclusion.
Three Stars out of Five
Rated R for some violence and language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 54 mins.