Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. United Kingdom/New Zealand, 2015. See-Saw Films, DMC Film, Film4, New Zealand Film Commission. Screenplay by John Maclean. Cinematography by Robbie Ryan. Produced by Iain Canning, Rachel Gardner, Conor McCaughan, Emile Sherman. Music by Jed Kurzel. Production Design by Kim Sinclair. Costume Design by Kirsty Cameron. Film Editing by Roland Gallois, Jon Gregory.
A young Scotsman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) shows up in the American west, a land that in the nineteenth century is still made up of wide, open frontiers and very little civilized law. His purpose is to find the homestead of his beloved lass and her father who immigrated there before him, but along the way he picks up a traveling companion (Michael Fassbender), whom he pays to keep him safe from the dangers of the wild west. It isn’t long after they team up that these two are heading to their destination with bandits (led by Ben Mendelsohn) on their heels, our naïve hero unwittingly leading the bad guys to a bounty with a high price on its head that has devastating consequences for all involved. The landscape is obviously shot in the lush vistas of New Zealand, but instead of poorly subbing for the actual intended setting, the rich camera work and steady direction transform the location into a bold act of expressionism. The film is at once a realistic drama and a myth, the suspiciously bright colours and overwrought personalities as much an indulgence in the way this aspect of American history has been presented to us as they are a criticism of it. That said, this sort of thing has been done many times before, so while the film is interesting and features a superb conclusion, it won’t blow the mind of anyone who is familiar with its highly familiar kind.