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USA 1999
Directed by
Stephen Frears
114 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Hi-Lo Country

Sam Peckinpah tried for 20 years to film Max Evans' 1961 novel but it was finally British director Stephen Frears who got the guernsey, albeit with a screenplay credited to Peckinpah collaborator Walon Green, co-writer of The Wild Bunch. The result, if not entirely successful, is an unduly neglected Western that, although about heterosexual love, in some ways anticipates Ang Lee's huge 2005 hit Brokeback Mountain.

Set in New Mexico just after World War II, the story deals with the death of the old cowboy days here upheld with rambunctious commitment by Big Boy Matson (Woody Harrelson), a charismatic roustabout, and Pete Calder (Billy Crudup), his quieter best friend who are both in love with the same woman, Mona (Patricia Arquette). The story of their lives together is shown in flashback and narrated by Pete. Frears holds the tension well as the story, which commentators at the time saw as a Western film noir, building to what we know to be inevitable, and interweaving the story of doomed love with the dying days of the Old West with great effectiveness.

Both Harrelson and Crudup are excellent in their parts although Patricia Arquette's character is less convincingly portrayed at both the level of script and performance, being at best a reflection of Pete's romantic view of her than an independent player and the pivotal role of Big Boy's little brother (Cole Hauser) is a rather one note affair that as a result seems somewhat jarringly used ex machina to resolve the narrative.

With the added attraction of cinematography by Oliver Stapleton and a soundtrack featuring some authentic old time music The Hi-Lo Country is nevertheless a film well-worth catching.




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