Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Duvall, Thomas Haden Church, Greta Scacchi, Chris Mulkey, Rusty Schwimmer, Gwendoline Yeo, Scott Cooper, Valerie Tian, Caroline Chan, Olivia Cheng, Jadyn Wong, Kristianna Wong, Donald Fong, Todd Allen, James Russo
Written by: Alan Geoffrion
Directed by: Walter Hill
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 184
Date: 06/24/2006

Broken Trail (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mustang Road

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I was so excited to see a poster for this new Western, directed by Walter Hill, at my local multiplex. What a letdown, then, to discover it was "only" a cable TV movie. I missed the prime time debut in June on AMC. Fortunately I caught it on DVD, sans commercials, and it's at least as good as any American theatrical film I've seen this year. Robert Duvall stars as "Print" Ritter, an old cowhand who inherits his sister's ranch. She left it to him rather than to her own son, Tom Harte (Thomas Haden Church). To make things right again, Print decides to buy a team of mustangs and transport them across country to sell to the British army; the money they'll earn will be split evenly. Hence, Broken Trail becomes a road movie, complete with all the road movie staples. They meet all kinds of odd characters, from nasty villains to friendly musicians, but the key to Broken Trail is that they also meet five Chinese girls on their way to be sold into sexual slavery (an unusual, nostalgia-busting commentary on the too-recent past). Our two cowboys save the girls' lives and take them along on their journey. The script comes from novice scribe Alan Geoffrion, a real-life cowboy and a neighbor of Duvall's. His untrained eye results in some delightful passages, but also a great many plot holes: characters disappear and reappear without any mention, plot devices are introduced and dropped, etc. But veteran action director Walter Hill (The Warriors, Undisputed, etc.) keeps these doggies rolling along. Church turns in a fine, deadpan Eastwood-like performance, but Duvall does miraculous things with layers of sadness, anger and giddy amusement. (He was equally good in Kevin Costner's Open Range.) Someone ought to pass a law requiring Duvall to make one Western a year from now on.

DVD Details: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released this three-hour film on a two-DVD set, complete with a making-of documentary and trailers. There are fade-outs where the commercials were, which is far preferable to the TV broadcast, which stretched out to four hours.

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