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Broken Trail

first original AMC movie, 2006, DVD 2006 (Sony), $29, 2 discs, 240 minutes.

This is a beautifully done Western, relaxed and very natural. Broken Trail is on the same level as Open Range or Lonesome Dove in setting and location and in allowing the great Robert Duvall to shine. Duvall (as Print Ritter) and Thomas Haden Church (as his nephew Tom Harte) are the perfect pair as they drive 500 horses from eastern Oregon to Sheridan, Wyo., where they will sell them to an agent of Queen Victoria’s army for use in the Boer War. It’s 1898, but the land is still vast and the sky still big. Along the way, they are joined by another nice guy, fiddle player Henry Gilpin (Scott Cooper), before encountering Billy Fender (James Russo), an abusive, disgusting drunk who is transporting five frightened young Chinese women from San Francisco to an Idaho mining camp for a life of prostitution. After a night of drinking around the campfire, Fender makes off with the cowboys’ money and one of the women. Harte soon gets the girl back and gives Fender what he deserves (more than just a Fender bender), which is all well and good, but it happens too fast. Villains that vile need to stick around longer.

As might be expected, Ritter, Harte and Gilpin continue to push the horses eastward while bringing along the Chinese contingent, because the landscape might be beautiful but it ain’t particularly safe for unprotected females. A worn-out whore named Nola (Greta Scacchi) joins the group, seeking a better life for the Chinese women and for herself and Ritter. Hardships naturally come their way in the form of Indians; outlaws; Big Rump Kate (Rusty Schwimmer), the madam who wants her Chinese property back; and Big Rump’s cold-blooded man, Big Ears Bywater (Chris Mulkey). Other characters come and go, making the story a little choppy in places, but that’s a small matter since the main characters are all interesting and they stay with us (either moseying or galloping) for the entire enjoyable ride. Walter Hill has directed a winner, a Western that pulls you right in and that you don’t want to leave when it’s over.


Originally published in the December 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here