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Our review of Broken Trail, published September 5th, 2006, is also available.
"We're all travelers in this world. From the sweet grass to the packing house. Birth 'til death. We travel between the eternities."—Robert Duvall
Although it certainly bears all the qualities of a solid big-screen feature, Walter Hill's Broken Trail is an AMC original miniseries that instantly won critical praise and picked up four Emmy Awards and three Golden Globe nominations in 2007. Now the Western finally debuts on Blu-ray, giving viewers the opportunity to watch this epic movie event in stunning high definition.
Facts of the Case
Set in 1898, the film follows veteran cowboy Print Ritter (Robert Duvall, Network) and his nephew Tom Harte (Thomas Haden Church, Spider-Man 3) as they run a couple of hundred horses from Oregon to Wyoming to earn some cash. Although the ride seems to be going great at first, the two face several complications when they encounter a ruthless trafficker who's on his way to deliver five abused and abandoned Chinese girls to a lawless mining town. Feeling responsible and wanting to save the innocent girls from being thrust into prostitution, Print decides to take them along on the trip and not leave them out of his sight until they're in safe hands.
Broken Trail clocks in at 184 minutes, but that gives the film plenty of time to explore its main characters and several life-changing experiences. Essentially, the story centers on two cowboys trying to earn some honest money to invest in their future, but the long journey they tackle in order to complete their mission has quite a few surprises in store for them. Besides reflecting on life, protecting their horses and fighting off outlaws, Print and Tom spend most of the film bonding with some of the characters they encounter on the way to Wyoming. Making them the reluctant guardians of five Chinese girls who don't speak a word of English definitely puts an interesting twist in the whole thing. Both Print and Tom try their best to communicate with the girls and make them as comfortable as possible, which injects the plot with some amusing as well as heartwarming moments.
Director Walter Hill is by no means a newcomer to the genre. He previously directed The Long Riders and Wild Bill, and he knows exactly what a solid Western requires to capture the audience and please the fans. Indeed, Broken Trail has all the ingredients of a standard Western. On the one hand, the story boasts two authentic, brave characters who put honor first and pursue their own justice to protect the good people and punish the bad. Of course, the film also features plenty of horses, gorgeous landscapes, and a decent amount of gunfights. On the other hand, Hill and his crew created a convincing Western flair, putting a lot of heart and detail into great costumes and massive sets built exclusively for the movie. Three hours may seem a bit long for an adventure like this, but the DVD lets you watch the film in two parts. I decided to go ahead and watch all of it at once, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it. The plot slows down a bit during the last hour and shortly before the big showdown, but that's hardly an issue.
The thrilling script by Alan Geoffrion plays a huge role in the film's success, but what it all comes down to in the end is the cast. I think it's pretty safe to say Robert Duvall was born for the role of a cowboy. Travel back in time and watch him in Open Range and Lonesome Dove, and you'll know what I mean. As Print Ritter, Duvall delivers an incredibly powerful and authentic performance, creating an amiable character who treats good people with a lot of care but also doesn't hesitate when it comes to shooting somebody evil. He's joined by the great Thomas Haden Church, who has the wonderful ability to successfully portray any character he wants. In this film, he delivers an especially emotional performance. The cast also includes solid appearances by Chris Mulkey as the nasty villain Big Ears, Scott Cooper as Print's assistant Gilpin, and Greta Scacchi as a runaway prostitute.
I sometimes find television movies and series to be of a slightly weaker quality on Blu-ray discs, but Broken Trail comes with a strong 1.78:1 full HD presentation. The picture is a little grainy during night shots, but other than that, the film's gorgeous landscapes (it was filmed in Canada) look absolutely stunning throughout. The audio transfer couldn't be cleaner and surprised me even more than the image quality, doing fabulous work in balancing the dialogue, music, and sound effects of the surrounding nature. Watching an entertaining three-hour Western is a lot of fun, but watching an entertaining three-hour Western in high definition is a wonderful experience.
Alas, the disc is pretty thin on special features. The bonus material only includes a decent 23-minute behind-the-scenes look, in which cast and crew briefly discuss the main characters, the central story, and the challenges of filming a Western for television. It's definitely an informative piece that offers some exciting footage from the set, but I wish they had focused even more on the making of the movie instead of telling us things we already know.
Western fans, I've got three words for you: grab this DVD! I know the three hours may put you off a little at first, but I promise you won't be disappointed. Duvall and Haden Church alone make this award-winning flick a must-see.
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