In this off-beat Western, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play a pair of squabbling brothers/bounty hunters. Their latest assignment is to track down a prospector played by Riz Ahmed who has perfect a new method of mining. Their on-again/off-again partner Morris, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is either an ally or an enemy depending on the time of day. The movie is off-beat and strange, but not as strange as the press it’s been getting would indicate. Yes, it has a rather bizarre sense of humor at times and it’s paced at arthouse speed, by which I mean slow, but it’s a Western for sure, with plenty of gun battles to go around. The film opens with a bravura slow zoom in on a gunfight taking place in pitch black and it’s a gorgeous shot. The rest of the film is less overtly directed, but it ends with a surprising one-take shot that is mainly surprising because it actually is just one take, even though it seems like it would be edited together. The performances are quite good. Reilly’s production company optioned the novel the movie is based on and you can tell it’s something of a passion project for him; it’s his best dramatic performance to date, I think, or at least right up there. Riz Ahmed once again proves his acting chops by turning in another “wait, that’s the same guy?” performance. For a guy with a somewhat unique look, he’s incredibly chameleonic. Phoenix is good as the wild-card of the brothers, though he isn’t asked to do any particular heavy lifting. Neither is Gyllenhaal which might explain why feels a character named “John Morris” needs to have some sort of intrusive, incredibly inconsistent accent. Actors, amirite? Anyway, if you can tell what the hell he thinks he’s doing, you’re doing better than me. Allison Tolman, who you might remember from Fargo’s first season, has a really wonderful cameo, essentially a one scene appearance; it starts hilariously funny and ends up surprisingly sad, but then that’s where this movie is a lot of the time. Still, though the film does feel kind of like a trifle at times and could stand to have a solid twenty minutes or so shaved off its more than two-hour running time, it’s enjoyable, affable and surprisingly touching at times. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a solidly entertaining, creatively written shaggy dog of a movie and who could say no to that? 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – off-beat Western has plenty of strangeness, but also hews to genre conventions; mostly good performances and a shaggy dog of a script add up to a fun time at the movies. 3 ½ stars.