Nicolas Cage strongly thrives in this gritty western.
I’ve seen two Nicolas Cage western vehicles in the independent circuit. First, there was “The Old Way,” in which he played a gunslinger with an autistic daughter. I felt he overacted in the role, and the film was a missed opportunity, especially when it tackled on an interesting subject in a certain time period. And now, I’m reviewing “Butcher’s Crossing,” in which he plays a professional buffalo hunter, who knows the rules of the wild. He does a much better job adapting to the John Edward Williams character with the beard, shaved head, and gripping characteristics, and he is able to thrive on the film’s gritty atmosphere.
We meet a young Ivy League drop-out and a minister’s son named Will Andrews (Fred Hechinger), who wishes to see more of the American West by joining buffalo hunters in the Colorado wilderness. In fact, he’s so optimistic, that he doesn’t listen to a buffalo-hide trader’s (Paul Raci) warnings of him entering dangerous territory.
The hunters consist of the experienced leader Miller (Cage), the religious alcoholic Charley Hoge (Xander Berkeley), and the dissenting skinner Fred Schneider (Jeremy Bobb). As expected, the young man gets more than what he bargained for. And even he agrees with Fred that Miller doesn’t need to kill every buffalo. But Miller is still persistent to kill them and sell their hides. And when it snows, things continue to get worse for the men.
“Butcher’s Crossing” was directed by Gabe Polsky, whose credits include “Red Army,” “Motel Life,” and “In Search of Greatness.” His next entry has its flaws, but it also has consistency and doesn’t just let Cage steal the show. I’m mixed on the Hechinger character, because he starts off being the perky, young adventurer, but then transcends into a young man seeing what he needed to see in the American West. But the best supporting performances come from Berkeley (disguised by the beard) and Bobb, who represent characters reaching a certain point in the journey. They’re the ones you’re more interested in.
The movie closes with the information that the bison population has been decreasing, but has been conserved by Native American tribes. It was also actually filmed on land owned by the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, and the buffalo have been handled by the Blackfeet Tribe Buffalo Program. It can be sickening for those who have to see them slaughtered, and most of us have seen “Dances with Wolves.” And while that film was rated PG-13, this one is rated R.
There are gorgeous-looking shots of the wilderness, while some scenes look like they were made on green screens. You can tell by how Will is placed in those images. But other shots are genuine and give you plenty of oxygen. I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been to the real Colorado, and, as a Jersey native, I was able to keep myself hydrated on such elevated levels.
“Butcher’s Crossing” is a considerable improvement over the “The Old Way,” because it doesn’t have overacted performances and it wants to tackle on some issues. It’s mostly a story about steeping outside your comfort zone, and finding yourself in dangerous territory, especially when it’s cold, and when the main hunter is ambitious up to the point of making a big mistake. Bring a jacket.
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This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA strike.