Bill Pullman and company give us a frontier story heavy on atmosphere and rich in character definition, which promises an interesting pay off in a landscape of genuine authenticity.
Authentic westerns are a dying breed. Times change, people move on while certain examples only mature over time rather than diminishing with age. However for every Wild Bunch or Once Upon A Time In The West, there are long winded self-indulgent money pits like The Postman. Creating something of genuine interest without an overabundance of cliché, stereotype or ponderous running time is hard for people to do. Which is why The Ballad of Lefty Brown not only comes as quite the surprise but will make a welcome addition amongst select company.
What writer-director Jared Moshe has done here is not only hand Bill Pullman the best role he has had for some time, but also crafted a Western thoroughbred worthy of remembrance. Encompassing panoramic vistas, perpetually burnished with endless stretches of arid scrubland this is a film of resonance. Settlements days apart, vigilante justice metered out for bounty and a frontier providing more character than lesser films could manage in twice the time. However what many will remember most from The Ballad of Lefty Brown besides that scenery and sense of Western heritage is Pullman’s performance.
Cloaked beneath a nest of grey chin whiskers, hunkered down in an accent so deep it’s almost caricature, Pullman is given time to inhabit this man and make him live. Ably supported by Tommy Flanagan, Kathy Baker and a fleeting Peter Fonda this is more Outlaw Josey Wales and Two Mules for Sister Sara than Unforgiven or Open Range.
Forever on the fringes of history rather than making it, Lefty is replete with good manners but permanently dressed down. Never his own man but rather half of one whole, the loyalty, friendship and lifelong allegiance he gives is matched only by a similar stubbornness when backed into a corner. If anything this is an underdog story lifted straight from western territory, but there is such commitment from both Pullman and his supporting actors that it is raised up regardless. Gunshot wounds, hangings and political intrigue are all given equal screen time, while spit and sawdust saloons, acrid heat and monsoon weather play their part.
Slightly pedestrian in pace but a solid western worthy of note, The Ballad of Lefty Brown is neither cinematic padding nor reinvention. Pullman and company give us a frontier story heavy on atmosphere and rich in character definition, which promises an interesting pay off in a landscape of genuine authenticity.