Though Stephen Frears is a fantastic director of note, this film has sort of just come in under the radar to positive reviews. I'd be interested in more opinions about this one, as well, I've heard so little about it. But check out what the Cheesy Poof Man has to say about it. With this and THE THIN RED LINE, it seems Woody has a couple of wonderful films coming up. Cool...
THE CHEESY POOF MAN from down under chiming in with this look at THE HI-LO COUNTRY
Today I saw a film that probably isn't going to make a cracker at the box office but for me stands as one of the finest films I've seen this year (and I see *a lot* of movies!). THE HI-LO COUNTRY is the new film by Stephen Frears, who seems to have this incredible ability to move in and out of genres with great ease, but also brings his own style and grace.
This new film is not quite a western in the Unforgiven/Shane style - for a start it's set in the early 40's (I think), so people have cars and Coca-cola, but the mythic nature of the main characters puts it firmly in the western tradition. The first thing that hits you about the film is how STUNNING the cinematography is. I can't remember who shot the movie but they deserve big-time kudos. People are going to be talking about how great this movie looks.
The opening credit music has immediate undertones of Fargo - those deep, bassy horns - of course the music was done by Carter Burwell who does the Coens' movies and this is his best score since BARTON FINK.
THE PLOT (minor spoilers) focuses on Billy Crudup's character, who is orphaned as a young man and is a strong, silent type in a small farming town. He becomes best friends with a guy nicknamed 'Big Boy' (yes, I'm serious) who is played by Woody Harrelson and is the larrikin, hard drinkin' dude that he plays so well. The two go off to a war (to seperate, unseen battles) and return home to their town as sort of local heroes. Crudup is flushed with army pay, so instead of taking a job with the local wealthy land & cattle baron (a beard-less Sam Elliot) like the bulk of the town he teams up with Harrelson to buy his own herd. Big Boy is a bit peeved that his younger brother (yes, Little Boy, played by Cole Hauser from Good Will Hunting) has 'sold out' and begun working for Elliot while he was away, and there's a lot of familial tension between them. For a start, Little Boy now wants to be known as 'LB', and Harrelson takes a lot of pleasure in ignoring this.
The plot really kicks in, however, with the arrival of the (delectable) Patricia Arquette into the film. She plays a similar sort of woman that she did so well in the under-rated LOST HIGHWAY - very elusive, sexual and vaguely menacing . Here she's unhappily married to Sam Elliot's foreman, and very quickly turns on Billy Crudup in a big way. He is initially reluctant to have an affair with her, although it's clear that he wants to. Unfortunately he doesn't realise that she's also putting the hard word on.. you guessed it... Woody Harrelson, who has no hesitation at reciprocating her affections..
Crudup then spends the rest of the film brooding while his best mate begins to carry on a quite public affair with Arquette, drawing the wrath of Elliot and his cronies. He's tormented by his infatuation but guilt-ridden because he can't betray his best friend. We're talking Greek Tragedy material (it certainly comes across that way.)
I don't think that feminist groups are going to be particularly thrilled with Arquette's man-eating character, but somehow you don't hate her - you just hate what she's doing. It says a lot for Arquette's understated performance that this role isn't a cardboard cut-out of the usual betraying bitch.
Things rise to a head when Crudup can't contain his feelings. The climax is very unexpected and gripping, and although I have a few reservations about the ending; the torment of the lead character is so well portrayed that his final action seems a bit of a cop-out.
Crudup is excellent - the camera loves his freakily chiselled features, but the star of the film is really Harrelson. I think his performance in Natural Born Killers was really underrated but here he has an excellent outside chance at a Best Actor nomination. Arquette really has a thankless role but she's excellent nonetheless. I just hope one day she'll get a role to really sink her teeth into other than just 'the woman'. Will Scorsese's BRINGING OUT THE DEAD be that movie? You can probably tell me.
Overall THE HI-LO COUNTRY is far too subtle and intelligent to be a major commercial success but it's so beautifully done, for me it stands with THE TRUMAN SHOW, OUT OF SIGHT , BULWORTH and BOOGIE NIGHTS as one of the most memorable American movies of '98. Expect to see it on a lot of critics top 10 lists and do excellent limited release business.
And here's the other review, well it's more of a snippet, but here ya go...
The Bishop here. I caught a preview of Stephen Frears' new movie The Hi-Lo Country yesterday, a 40s-set western with Woody Harrelson, Billy Crudup and Patricia Arquette.
This movie is not going to set the critics or the box office alight. It concerns the passions of two cowboy characters (Woody and Billy) for girl about town Patricia Arquette who is stuck in a loveless marriage to an overbearing husband. There's plenty of cattle rustling, roaming prairies, even a poker game set-piece and while it's impossible to criticise the acting or direction, it's such a long and ponderous affair that you can't help not thinking it will face a big squeeze at the box office. The most Hawksian movie I have seen in a long while.