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With: Bill Pullman, Peter Fonda, Kathy Baker, Jim Caviezel, Tommy Flanagan, Diego Josef, Joe Anderson
Written by: Jared Moshe
Directed by: Jared Moshe
MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language
Running Time: 111
Date: 12/15/2017

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sidekick Ways

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director Jared Moshe clearly loves and appreciates the Western genre, and he has created one that is not only classical, skillful and unpretentious, but also finds a fresh angle on an old story.

In The Ballad of Lefty Brown, loyal Lefty (Bill Pullman) has been riding with Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda) for forty years, through many adventures. Now Edward has been elected to the senate and is headed to Washington. Edward wants to leave Lefty in charge of his ranch, but Edward's wife Laura ( Kathy Baker) doesn't think that the dopey, misfit cowboy can handle it. Before anyone can decide, Edward is shot and killed by a gunman.

Lefty immediately sets out to find the killer, and runs into a lone kid, Jeremiah (Diego Josef), who reads cowboy pulp stories and asks to ride along. Eventually two other former partners turn up at the ranch, Jimmy Bierce (Jim Caviezel), now the governor of Montana, and Tom Harrah (Tommy Flanagan), a former alcoholic-turned-U.S. Marshal. Tom rides out to look for Lefty, but Lefty convinces Tom to help find the killer. They do, but they also uncover a terrible truth. Meanwhile, Lefty himself has been accused of pulling the trigger on Edward.

Giving the spotlight to the traditional "sidekick" character, Moshe finds surprising nuance there, especially given the casting of the old reliable character actor Bill Pullman in a rare leading role. Pullman gives a truly great performance, emphasizing slowness and a certain kind of prairie wisdom, completely disappearing inside his role. His Lefty Brown doesn't quite know how to handle things in civilization — he even fights with a fence post in one scene — and isn't very good with rules, but is perfectly at home while out on the range.

Moshe, shooting on real film stock, gets so much beautiful outdoor imagery in The Ballad of Lefty Brown, often framing characters against gorgeous overcast skies, with light beaming through at odd angles. He understands how to use landscape, trees, rocks, tall weeds, etc., for dramatic effect, and understands all the rhythms of the great Westerns.

As a result, his storytelling is rock-solid, and the movie remains gripping and moving throughout. In the traditional (now smaller) hero role, Peter Fonda brings a touch of grizzled grace, and Kathy Baker is wonderful as his feisty wife.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray edition comes with a digital copy, though no DVD. The transfer is fine for such a good-looking film, though there appears to be some high contrast from time to time. Audio is excellent. Pullman and director Moshe provide a low-key commentary track, and there are a couple of featurettes and some deleted scenes; the extras are not earth-shattering, but Western fans may appreciate them. Truthfully, it's wonderful to see such a well-made Western with a definite appreciation of the genre.

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