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Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Hi-Lo Country DVD Review

The Hi-Lo Country is a drama that takes place in the west just after World War II, and in a manner is about the end of a way of life out there. Two close friends – Big Boy and Pete (Woody Harrelson and Billy Crudup) – work a small ranch. They do things the old-fashioned way, doing a cattle drive rather than loading them on trucks (partly because it’s fun and makes them feel alive, and partly because they can’t afford trucks).

The film begins with a bit of voice-over narration by Pete: “I once set out to kill someone. I took pleasure in the thought of their death…It started over a horse.” And then the film flashes back to Pete meeting Big Boy by selling him his horse. The two become best friends after that. That was just before World War II. The film then jumps to them returning from the war.

Jim Ed Love (Sam Elliott) had stayed stateside during the war, and got rich from his ranch, something Pete could have done had he decided to stay too. There is a lot of animosity between those working for Jim Ed and the rest of the ranchers. Jim Ed represents the future, and the future is anything but kind, anything but welcome.

Adding to the trouble is Mona (Patricia Arquette), a woman that both Big Boy and Pete are in love with. But she is now married to Les, who works as Jim Ed’s foreman. Mona explains her marriage to Pete with the line, “Everyone else was at war.” It’s such a simple statement, but really helps to show her character.

This film is worth watching mostly for its cast. Woody Harrelson is great, particularly in the poker scene. And Billy Crudup is an actor that has always impressed me. As usual, he is excellent in this film. Patricia Arquette also turns in a good performance. Certain moments with her really stand out. Such as when she says to Pete (about seeing Big Boy, though also maybe a general statement): “It makes no sense what I’m doing, but I gotta keep doing it.”

But my favorite moment with her is when, knowing Pete is still crazy for her, she says, “Pete, thanks for everything.” Her delivery is chilling and perfect. It’s an incredible moment, coming after he has kissed her in a hotel room he reserved for her and Big Boy, and she’s told him to stop.

The supporting cast is great as well. The incredibly beautiful Penelope Cruz plays Josepha, the other woman in Pete’s life – a woman who actually, truly loves him, and whom he can’t quite figure out how to love in the same way.  James Gammon plays Hoover Young, who goes into business with Pete and Big Boy so that their dreams of owning cattle can come true. (By the way, we do get footage of a cattle drive, which looks great.)  Lane Smith (who played Perry White in Lois & Clark) plays Steve Shaw, one of the men working for Jim Ed. Cole Hauser plays Little Boy, Big Boy’s younger brother (who has disappointed Big Boy by going to work for Jim Ed).

There is a bit too much voice over work by Pete. Some of it seems unnecessary, even intrusive – like when he talks about getting drunk, or when he says “But I did lie,” since we already knew that.

The soundtrack features some wonderful old country tunes, including a couple of great Hank Williams songs.

The Hi-Lo Country was directed by Stephen Frears, who also directed Prick Up Your Ears, The Grifters, The Snapper, and Lay The Favorite.

This DVD has no special features. In fact, there aren’t even subtitles or DVD chapters. The entire film is one chapter. The Hi-Lo Country was released on December 18, 2013 through Shout! Factory.

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