Butcher’s Crossing (TIFF) review

REASON: A young man (Fred Hechinger) gives up his wealth and privilege to explore the American West. He has spoken to play a buffalo hunting expedition of Miller (Nicolas Cage), who has become obsessed with his all-consuming profession. Soon the two are on an endless expedition that threatens their lives and sanity.

REVIEW: As a lifelong Nicolas Cage fan, it is hugely rewarding to see him once again respected as perhaps the most iconoclastic actor of our era. While I would argue that there are bigger stars out there, there are few on-screen personalities that match Cage, and although he was stuck in an endless loop of DTV movies for too long, he has since resurfaced and regained his reputation as a master of his craft. It helps that even in his worst films, Cage never dialed in, which is perhaps why he’s been able to bounce back much more than many of his contemporaries who have found themselves in similar ruts.

Butcher’s Crossing is a modest western that’s probably only headed for a minor release, but it’s an interesting work that gives Cage a worthy role to chew on in this first foray into the genre. It’s a tight western, much more along the lines of something similar Meek’s Cutoff than Unforgiven. It tells an honest story of a dark time in the American West, when buffalo hunters drove the bison to near-extinction levels and starved the native population.

Butcher's Crossing nicolas cage review

The film is based on the novel by John Williams, but also seems to take a page from it Apocalypse now, with Cage’s Miller a Kurtz-like figure. With a bald head (which looks good on Cage) with a fierce scar running across it and a mighty beard, Miller is an imposing and intimidating guy, but he’s not portrayed as a monster. He is just a man engrossed in his profession, the rich rewards draining him of all empathy and compassion. Nothing will stand in the way of a good hunt, not even a family he meets who have been left for dead. It’s a harsh country with no room for kindness, but he has some redeeming qualities. He seems fond of our naïve young hero (who narrates the film) and also takes care of an aging mountain man (Xander Berkley’s Charley Hoge).

Of necessity, Miller is forced to take Jeremy Bobb’s bullied Fred with him as he needs a hide for the hunt, but he has no time for the man’s constant prodding. As the film continues, Hechinger’s Will is seduced by the madness of the buffalo hunt, where Miller kills hundreds and revels in the slaughter. It all comes to an ironic and fitting conclusion that strikes a melancholic note. Cage is excellent in another low-key character part. It’s similar to his work in Pig, where Cage delivers a self-reflexive performance that complements director Gabe Polsky’s approach.

It’s only Polsky’s second narrative feature, but he’s a skilled documentarian and tries to give us as an audience an honest and accurate idea of ​​what life would have been like on such a hunt. The cinematography, which isn’t afraid to go dark in the numerous scenes set around a campfire at night, is also effortless.

Rachel Keller, by Fargo and Legion, plays a young prostitute who tries to seduce Hechinger since he is so rough compared to the men she usually has to serve, such as Boba’s hateful Fred. It’s a small part, but she offers an interesting juxtaposition of what life in such a brutal country can do to a person’s soul. Hechinger’s character is portrayed as a tourist seduced by the rough and tumble life, but as the film goes on, he learns exactly what a life like this takes from you—and it’s something you never get back. Paul Raci by The sound of metal has a good role as the expedition financier who tries to warn Will about how stupid his plan to fund Miller’s hunt is, and his final scene with Cage is killer. To see these two professionals at the top of their game go head-to-head.

While it’s low-key enough that it’s probably destined to be more of an underrated cult film than a major arthouse hit, Butcher’s Crossing is an absorbing, artful Western that deserves to find an audience. Saban, who specializes mainly in VOD movies, bought it earlier, which means it’s unlikely to get much of a theatrical run. Still, if you like this kind of character-driven, elevated genre piece, I recommend checking it out.

Butcher's Crossing nicolas cage review


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