If ever a film needed the brutally sardonic touch of Sergio Leone, or even a lesser Spaghetti Western director, it's this feminist variation on THE SEARCHERS (1956). New Mexico, 1885: Rancher Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) supplements her income doctoring people to whom no doctor is available. A staunch Christian, she's raising two daughters alone petulant teenager Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood), who yearns for the finer things, and 12-year-old Dot (Jenna Boyd), a smaller version of her mother and isn't interested in remarrying, though there's a warm spot in her heart and bed for ranch hand Brake Baldwin (Aaron Eckhart). Two fateful events shatter Maggie's harsh but predictable world. Her estranged father, Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), turns up looking like an Indian and aching to make amends for having abandoned his family 30 years earlier, and a gang of Native American outlaws tortures Brake to death and abducts Lilly. Maggie, who had her father driven off her land, must turn to him for help. If he wants to make amends, she says, he can use the skills he learned in his years with the Indians to track Lilly's kidnappers, who have traveled south to sell a whole gaggle of stolen girls to Mexican brothel keepers. Maggie's confidence in her knowledge of the world is put to the test en route; she learns that Lilly's Apache abductors are AWOL U.S. Army scouts in cahoots with white men, the cavalry is a useless band of looters and drunks, and Samuel's concern that the kidnappers' leader (Eric Schweig) is a brujo a witch is genuine, not just an attempt to undermine Dot's Christian upbringing. Maggie even agrees to join forces with Native American Kiyatah (Jay Tavare) and his son (Simon Baker), whose bride is among the abducted girls. Along the dusty trail, family bonds are restored, Maggie relinquishes some of her prejudices, Dot awakens to the world's complexities and Lilly finds reserves of strength no one imagined she possessed. Though intelligent and well-crafted, the film suffers from Ron Howard's fundamental sense of decorum and concern for his viewers' tender sensibilities; he's not the director to do justice to a story driven by supernatural violence, everyday savagery and the specter of rape. The bones of a great Western remain barely visible under the layer of mush he and screenwriter Ken Kaufman smooth over them, reminders of the viciously memorable film that might have been.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: If ever a film needed the brutally sardonic touch of Sergio Leone, or even a lesser Spaghetti Western director, it's this feminist variation on THE SEARCHERS (1956). New Mexico, 1885: Rancher Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) supplements her income doctorin… (more)