In the tradition of many contemporary makers of indie films, Justin Kreinbrink wears multiple very important hats.
Release Date: 25 June 2006 (USA)
Director: Justin Kreinbrink
Writer: Justin Kreinbrink (screenplay), Tara Kreinbrink (screenplay)
Cast: Justin Kreinbrink, Howard Allen, Susan Arnold
In the tradition of many contemporary makers of indie films, Justin Kreinbrink wears multiple very important hats. He is not only the director, but also, along with Tara Kreinbrink, the co-writer. He also plays one of the two main characters in this Western, a man named John Cooper.
John’s predicament is that his in-laws were cruelly slaughtered, but in the aftermath, he has been put in charge of taking the mute culprit, Martin (Terry Market), to the gallows for execution. However, not only is Martin an old friend of John’s, but John is so wracked by grief and betrayal that he is sorely tempted to just kill Martin himself. This early, we might already spot some plot implausibility. Many men would not be all that upset or angry at the prospect of losing their in-laws. Further complications arise when a small group of bandits appears to be following the pair. John realizes that they are not simple robbers, and suspects that Martin’s guilt may not be as clear-cut as he believes.
The Western film appears to be undergoing some sort of resurgence in recent years. Many of the more notable “new” Westerns are meditative character studies or serious explorations of issues, such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Appaloosa, or 3:10 to Yuma. The loud shoot-em-up Jonah Hex, despite its conventional blockbuster nature, actually seems like the exception to this phenomenon. Justin Kreinbrink’s film might be understood, then, as part the low-budget indie arm of the trend. Unfortunately, an indie Brokeback Mountain Kreinbrink’s film definitely ain’t. This is not just because of the lack of cowboy-on-cowboy action, but also because of the overall low level of craftsmanship in production, acting, and directing. Kreinbrink is wooden and faintly ridiculous in his own film, and the muteness of Terry Market’s character seems more like a cheap gimmick than an interesting metaphor, or even a good opportunity for Market to show off an ability to express emotions without words.
This might have been a good film in the hands of a more experienced director, but Kreinbrink has little idea how to use his actors. It is true that he might not have had the budget to hire great professionals, but sometimes, a talented director is able to draw the best out of a performer who is not exactly top-notch. Many of the actors here just drift through, playing Western movie stereotypes in a flat, clichéd manner. Furthermore, the pacing of the film is likely to induce frustration or sleep in even relatively patient audience members. A slow pace is not necessarily a bad thing, but even “meditative” films can and should possess some kind of drive, instead of just wandering in circles.
In fairness, this film does raise some interesting issues about the nature of justice. Firstly, why exactly is it that we would sometimes find it more satisfying to get revenge with our own hands, instead of leaving punishment up to the state or legal system? If the accused is already going to receive the harshest punishment (i.e. the death penalty), what more can we do if we go after him ourselves?
Even so, a film is not just about ideas. Kreinbrink might have wanted to explore some fascinating questions, but ultimately, his execution of cinematic form disappoints.