THE LEGACY OF A WHITETAIL DEER HUNTER finds writer/director Jody Hill (THE FOOT FIST WAY) and Danny McBride (ALIEN: COVENANT), who co-wrote the film, returning to familiar territory. Again, they have brought us the story of an unaware, overconfident man who wants to prove his value to someone important in his life. This time that man is Buck Ferguson, played by Josh Brolin (INHERENT VICE). Buck is the star of a series of deer hunting instructional videos who has recently gone through a divorce and is looking to reconnect with his son, Jaden played by Montana Jordan (YOUNG SHELDON), by taking him on his first hunting trip. With his cameraman and sidekick, Don played by McBride, in tow; Buck sets off to bond with his son, help him bag his first deer and film it all for a new video.
The comedy of Hill's films has always been based in awkwardness and dark humor but with a good-natured warmth underneath. THE LEGACY OF A WHITETAIL DEER HUNTER is no exception but this time that aren't many actual laughs to be had. The film has awkwardness aplenty though. Buck is blissfully ignorant of how he ruined his own marriage and controls the life of his good-natured cameraman. Jaden is wholly unaware of how much the trip means to his father and cameraman Don is awkward in ways I can't really go into without spoiling some truly weird aspects of the film.
They also seem to genuinely care about each other though and want each other to be happy. They just aren't sure how to go about making that happen. These are all very much characters that fit comfortably in Hill's filmography alongside EASTBOUND AND DOWN's Kenny Powers and OBSERVE AND REPORTS's Ronnie Barnhardt. There are moments in the film, the night time campfire scenes, for example, where Buck and Don share a bit of whiskey with Jaden or listen to him strum on a guitar that are sweet, quiet moments that feel honest and you can't help but smile at. Their affection for each other is palpable and that's what carries the film through its brief runtime. It's charming and earnest but just not particularly funny.
Brolin has had a very busy year so far and his performance as Buck illustrates why he's in such high demand. The character could've easily been portrayed as a stereotype or caricature, but Brolin brings depth and charm, and even a little sadness to the role where you can't help but want to see him achieve a good relationship with his son. Brolin makes the film work almost single-handily. McBride though is simply playing a variation on the dim-witted everyman he does so well when collaborating with Jody Hill. It's nothing new but if you typically like what McBride does then you'll likely enjoy it here as well.
Young Montana Jordan's performance is a lot of where the film fails. His role as Jaden is meant to be the catalyst for much of the comedy in THE LEGACY OF A WHITETAIL DEER HUNTER and it just doesn't work. It relies heavily on his exaggerated southern accent and 'fish out of water' humor where he pines for modern comforts while traipsing through the woods. It nearly derails the entire film, but Hill wisely lets the emotional aspects of the film take center stage often enough to smooth over the considerable rough patches.
Hill's direction through the film is workman-like and never showy, barring a few moments - Buck being silhouetted against the night sky while drunkenly calling his ex-wife is a truly striking image, for example. Hill lets the performers be what draws your attention and when you get work as strong as what Brolin delivers here, it's easy to see why that choice was made.
THE LEGACY OF A WHITETAIL DEER HUNTER is still a film that is meant to be funny though. Can a film still be considered a success if it fails in its main purpose but is so successful in other aspects? I don't think it can. While there are reasons to recommend the film, Brolin's performance chief among them, the fact remains that the film is only partially successful and overall a frustratingly mediocre effort from such a talented group of individuals.
THE LEGACY OF A WHITETAIL DEER HUNTER is currently streaming on Netflix.