Prentice Ritter: "We're all travelers in this world. From the sweet grass to the packing house. Birth till death. We travel between the eternities."
This is perhaps the grittiest western I have ever seen. And yet, I loved it. It was violent and depressing and terrifying and epic and inspiring and heart-wrenching all at the same time. It was definitely classic western, but there was also a definite uniqueness about it which made it seem different somehow from other westerns. It was raw and edgy, but there was also a resounding theme of morality throughout-- the main characters were good, decent men, not just cowboys riding around on horses swearing at each other. They honestly cared about the people and causes along their journey and worked hard to do what was right even when it inconvenienced them to no end. Not many westerns have men like that as their heroes, which was one of the things I loved most about this movie.
Obviously, this is not a normal western. (Is there really such thing?) It's an unusual story, a rather odd premise for a movie. It's not based on a true story, but a collection of several true stories from the late 19th century.
One of the elements that makes this such a good film is how good the acting is. Robert Duvall is Print Ritter and is amazing, as always. After a while you come to expect perfection from Robert Duvall in every role-- and he delivers it. Robert Duvall really becomes every character he plays so well, so that even if you see him in dozens of movies, you still feel like you're watching the character-- not an actor. I liked 'Uncle Print' almost as much as Gus in Lonesome Dove. Maybe even as much, which is really quite shocking. He was a soft-hearted old man, kind and gentle, but still had a bit of the dickens in him. His compassion for the Chinese girls and his relationship with them was adorable.
It took a little longer for me to warm up to Tom, but it happened nonetheless. When I picked this out I had no idea who this Thomas Haden Church person was, or what to expect from him. I still don't know who he is, but I like him. Tom was definitely rough-and-tough cowboy through and through. He didn't smile much for most of the movie, and we didn't often get to see past his rough exterior. He kind of swore a lot too, especially at the beginning, so I didn't know how much I was going to end up liking him. He was a real cowboy and turned out to be a genuinely kind man beneath everything else.
Thomas Haden Church has a real distinct way of talking that is so much fun to listen to. My sister and I kept laughing over his gravelly, monotonous voice. :-P He's really an excellent actor, and I'd love to see him in something else.
|From left: #1, #5, #3, #4, #2|
The girls-- known as Number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5-- were all acted marvelously. I've seen Gwendoline Yeo (#3) in The Magic of Ordinary Days and was pleased to see her in something else. #3 (whose real name is Sun Foy) is obviously the eldest of the girls and acts as sort of a motherly figure. #5 (whose name is Ging Wa) is evidently the youngest and has bound feet so it's hard for her to walk. She's very timid and skittish, and absolutely adorable. #1 and #2 (Ghee Moon and Mai Ling) are slightly smaller characters, but very sweet. #4 is Ye Fung, who as been abused and mistreated even more than the other girls and has given up all hope of happiness.
Greta Scacchi played Nola Johns, a prostitute who lives in the mining town and joins the group after the girls are attacked in the boarding house. Surprisingly, I really liked this character. She was tough and practical, kind and compassionate to the girls, and really a very wise person despite her unfortunate situation. Some of my favorite scenes were when she talks to Print, when she tells him about her downfall to her current situation and when they sit together by the lake at sunset. (It was so sweet!) In fact, although I thought their relationship was darling the way it was, I wouldn't have minded if the two of them had ended up together because Nola and Print just seemed so right. Robert Duvall and Greta Scacchi were a beautiful pair and I loved watching them together.
One of my favorite lines was when Nola and Print were sitting together by the lake, and Print says:
"You know something? I'd pay forty dollars just to watch you hang laundry all day long." He tells her that she's a good woman, and then, the best part of all, he embraces her. They don't kiss-- theirs isn't a romantic kind of relationship. They're just two older people, one mistreated by the world and the other who never really found what he wanted, who genuinely care about each other. And I loved that.
|Yes, he played Lt. Joseph Morrison in Gods and Generals.|
Another character I really loved was Henry Gilpin, known as 'Heck' (or 'Hank', as Print calls him), played by Scott Cooper. Heck is a drifter whom Tom met up with playing his fiddle in a bar and hired on to help them deliver the horses. He's from a wealthy family in Virginia, but he left his privileged life to come out west for adventure. You can tell he's well-bred and has fine manners, but he's adapted to life in the west and is a good cowboy too. He's always smiling and optimistic, and I loved it when he played his fiddle in the evenings! I also love his cute little hat. :-)
Big Rump Kate was just plain MEAN. *shudders* Oh, she was horrible! It took about a half a second for me to recognize her as Miss Minchin's sister Amelia from A Little Princess, which made me laugh, but that was the only thing about her that made me laugh. She was cold and heartless and selfish and just wicked. Yikes.
Ed "Big Ears" Bywaters is the main villain of the story. He's an ex-convict and horsetheif and one of the meanest, wickedest, nastiest, ugliest, most horrible bad guys I've ever seen. Ugh. The scenes with him are some of the most terrifying I've ever seen.
The group meets up with several other people on their journey, most of which are crooks, but at last they get to Wyoming and deliver the herd of horses to a Mr. Moncrieff, who is refreshingly kind and generous. Print buys a house (or it might have still been Mr. Moncrieff's house-- I don't remember) and they all live there happily for a while, until one day when the girls are playing croquet outside, Tom has gone to round up some stray horses and Print and Heck are in the barn, Ed Bywaters shows up out of the blue. It's the most intense scene in the movie and REALLY scary. But it's also pretty awesome, because just when it looks like all hope is lost, Print cries out a signal and Tom comes riding back, and shoots Ed Bywaters and his men. It's Tom at his best.
Broken Trail is a very tragic story at some parts, like lots of other westerns. However, it doesn't end badly like you might expect, and in fact the ending is a happy one for everyone. I loved it, and cried and smiled at the same time because it was just so sweet. *sniffle*
The scenery in Broken Trail is absolutely stunning. There are a lot of shots of the horses running....and running....and more of the horses running, but I actually didn't think it was boring, just beautiful. I'm startin' to really like these horse movies. :-)
The music was probably the only thing I wasn't impressed with. The soundtrack was alright but nothing to get excited about, and most of it was either repetitive or directionless, or else nonexistent. I usually put a lot of stock in a good score, but the fact that this one was nothing special didn't take away from how much I enjoyed the movie. Which means it was really good.
Broken Trail isn't rated, but if it were it would probably be PG-13 or maybe R. I think I'd probably rate it R, just because some elements of the story are really heavy and there are some really intense parts. Definitely NOT a movie for young children, and some parts were pretty scary for me. It's a story about how rough life could be for women in the wilds of the west, but as I said before, the main characters all seemed to have strong moral character and the story has lots of good points. At first I didn't love it, and to be honest I thought it was depressing, but by part two I officially loved it. In fact, I think it's one of my favorite westerns. :-)
Oh yeah, and a warning-- this IS a miniseries, not a movie. It comes in two parts. I just want to warn you all so that if you watch it, you don't think it's over after the first part ends. I thought that for one horrifying second after the first part ended and was slightly traumatized. Just so ya know.