Lords of the plains.
Lords of nothing now.
Look, the post-modern elegy for the dying of the American West is nothing new. In this film, Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers, robbing banks for a good cause; Jeff Bridges is the wily Texas Ranger on their track. The story is very dissimilar to No Country for Old Men and this film has, for all its bleakness, none of the pure nihilism of the Coen film. But No Country is in the bloodstream of this film and it’s testament to just how strong this is that this isn’t a problem. This isn’t close to No Country in terms of classic status, but it’s a classic of its own kind. Mackenzie does a great job capturing the desolate wastes of tiny Texas towns and the sweeping bleak vistas of the Texas plains. He’s helped along in the moodiness department by a haunted, minimal, yet starkly beautiful score by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis. The cast is brilliant, from the headliners to the bit parts. Chris Pine is probably career best here as the weary younger brother. Ben Foster is reliably excellent as the erratic, more dangerous older brother. Bridges gives his best performance in years as the canny, pragmatic Ranger on their trail. Gil Birmingham is naturalistic and minimal as Bridges half-Mexican, half-Native American partner. The film, to a large degree, rises and falls on these two main partnerships and the real chemistry of them. Pine & Foster have the lived-in chemistry of brothers that love each other, like each other and can’t stand each other. Bridges & Birmingham have the same thing. But you also just want to mention so many cast-members that have the feeling of real people, in the way that the bit players in so many Coen films do. Gregory Cruz as a surly casino patron, Margaret Bowman as a tough-talking waitress, Amber Midthunder as a shaken bank teller, Katy Mixon as a stubborn waitress . . . you could go on all day. But at the end of the day what matters here is the story, well & simply told, and the mood it conjures. The atmosphere is one of decay and emptiness, of a piece of America that’s down & out with no one to care. The film is incredibly bleak, a story about desperate men chasing dreams they already know are doomed, of men past their prime and left behind in the dust of a dying culture. Pine’s character queries his brother about their chances of getting away with their crimes; “I never met anybody who got away with anything,” Foster says. But they keep going. Like Bridges’ character, who dreads retirement, they’re defined by their actions. Who are they if they stop doing what they’re doing? I’m glad to see it find a fairly mainstream audience; most studios would think this film too dark and anti-heroic to have success at the multiplex, but they would be wrong. It’s a great movie, absolutely timeless and absolutely of the moment, a bleak look at the people left out when America recovered and the dead ends that create desperation. 4 stars.
tl;dr – wonderful cast populates a visually gorgeous meditation on the dying West and the grim fate of people without hope; a bleak, emotionally powerful thriller. 4 stars.