“You have no idea the hell storm you’re about to let loose.” No one would. This roughhewn “Micro Western” strips everything down to the basics. Down to the roots. Then it explodes.
In the late 1880s, Henry (Time Blake Nelson, O Brother Where Art Thou), a widower, lives just outside of Nashville on a farm in a desolate area. It’s just him and his teen boy Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). Dad is content to work the farm. His son, like so many his age, is eager to leave the over-protective home that has kept him from the outside world. Disruption comes their way the day Henry brings a stranger (Scott Haze, Minari) home. The man’s been shot and has a parcel of money with him. Not long after, gunslingers ride up led by Ketchum (Stephen Dorff, Blade), who claims he’s a sheriff hunting down a bad guy. There’s a standoff. A hell storm brewing.
The tone and feel of what’s on view is similar to that of other cowboy movies that forego the glossy traditional Hollywood approach and embrace a low-budget indie style (Never Grow Old) or no-frills realism (Open Range). These are the most believable movies in the genre. In this case, the earthy premise of a farmer trying to protect his homestead and family is also biblical. It’s a seed the storyline waters with deceit, misconceptions, lies, greed and father-son melodrama that grows into reveal after reveal. Surprise after surprise. The mark of a strong screenplay.
Prescient filmmaker Potsy Ponciroli, after viewing a lonely farmhouse in rural Tennessee, conjured up this fable that weaves fiction with history and conspiracies that will leave audiences gasping. He harnesses a simple, grassroots tone and turns it into a cowboy movie that goes from quiet drama, to menacing thriller to heart-stopping, blundering action with blazing guns. As a director, Ponciroli wrangles the actors like he’s herding cattle, pushing them around as he heads in one direction. All action scenes are underplayed, which ratchets up the authenticity. Shootouts, fist fights and mortal wounds are never over the top. It’s like the characters are just acting and reacting to their most primal instincts.
Tim Blake Nelson, in arguably his best portrayal ever, plays Henry, a small slight, thin man with a wiry frame and long weary face. He’s a little man with the biggest testicles in the land. You know the old codger is more than he appears. Nelson lays the groundwork meticulously like a master actor. Haze as the interloper, Dorff as the bad guy, Max Arciniega (Breaking Bad) as a tracker and singer Trace Adkins as the brother-in-law who warned the bad guys that the sky will fall all act like animals in the wilderness.
Every inch of the footage is as authentic looking as it can be. Indoor and outdoor lighting adds atmosphere, thanks to cinematographer John Matysiakva who wisely shot the film in the house that Ponciroli discovered. Production designer Max Biscoe, art director Ruby Guidara and set decorator Carey Ann Bowen put their indelible stamp on everything of any importance. The men’s clothes look like they smell of dirt, horse sweat and pig manure because costume designer Brianna Quick made them so, while Jamie Kirkpatrick times the proceedings perfectly at 93 minutes. Not a second too long or too short.
The direction, plotline, characters, actors, dialogue and country drawls take you back 140 years or so aptly recreating the times. A very simple and ingeniously crafted cowboy yarn. The kind that gets told again and again around campfires.