Butcher's Crossing

Butcher's Crossing
Original title:Butcher's Crossing
Director:Gabe Polsky
Running time:105 minutes
Release date:20 october 2023
A Harvard University graduate moves to Butcher's Crossing on the plains of Kansas to hunt a legendary buffalo.

Mulder's Review

Butcher's Crossing is an austere, chilling western that delves deep into the psyche of its characters and paints a bleak portrait of man's unbridled greed and obsession. Directed by Gabe Polsky, the film is an adaptation of John Williams' 1960 novel and tells the story of a buffalo hunt in the unforgiving landscape of the American West in 1874.

The film features a group of men who embark on a perilous journey to a remote valley in the Colorado Territory, rumored to be teeming with bison. At the head of this perilous expedition is Miller, a seasoned bison hunter played by Nicolas Cage. Nicolas Cage's performance is a true revelation, as he embodies the character of Miller with a controlled intensity that is both captivating and deeply unsettling. Far from the wild, eccentric mannerisms often associated with this actor, he delivers a haunting, evocative performance, making it one of the best of his career.

The story unfolds from the point of view of Will Andrews, a naive young Harvard graduate played by Fred Hechinger. Will arrives in the frontier town of Butcher's Crossing, Kansas, looking for adventure and meaning in his life. He befriends a family friend, McDonald (Paul Raci), who is involved in the buffalo hide trade. However, McDonald discourages Will from joining the hunting parties, warning him of the moral and physical burdens involved.

Will's journey takes a fateful turn when he meets Miller, who promises unimaginable riches in the remote valley, provided Will invests $600 in the expedition. The promise of adventure and riches is too tempting for Will to resist, and he joins Miller's crew, which includes one-armed, Bible-believing cook Charlie (Xander Berkeley) and skeptical skinner Fred (Jeremy Bobb).

As the men venture into the wild, the film takes on the tone of a psychological horror story. The grueling hunt and relentless buffalo slaughter push Miller, Will and the rest of the crew to their limits. The haunting scenes of massive buffalo slaughter are not for the faint of heart, as they depict the brutal reality of the 19th-century buffalo hunting industry.

Gabe Polsky's direction and David Gallego's photography capture the beauty and brutality of the American West. The vast, wild landscapes provide the backdrop for the characters' descent into madness and moral ambiguity. Polsky's choice to include dream sequences and hallucinations adds a layer of surrealism to the film, blurring the line between reality and the psychological consequences of the hunt.

One of the film's strengths is its ensemble cast. Xander Berkeley delivers an outstanding performance as the cook, Charlie, and Jeremy Bobb as the skeptical skinner, Fred, adds depth to the character dynamics. Rachel Keller also makes a significant impact in her role as a prostitute in Butcher's Crossing, providing a stark contrast to Will's inexperience.

Butcher's Crossing is no simple Western; it tackles themes of greed, obsession and the moral cost of ambition. The film's narrative and pacing are uneven at times, with some dream sequences seeming out of place. Although character development isn't as strong as it could be, the film shines in its depiction of the psychological burden imposed on characters when faced with the harsh realities of their quest.

Despite its flaws, Butcher's Crossing is a captivating, visually arresting film that stands out in the Western genre. Nicolas Cage's performance alone is worth the price of admission, as he navigates between madness and obsession with masterful restraint. The film serves as a cautionary tale about the ecological and moral consequences of the near-extinction of the bison in the 1800s, making it a haunting and thought-provoking cinematic experience. We hope this film will be released in French cinemas as it is in the USA. 

Butcher's Crossing
Directed by Gabe Polsky
Screenplay by Gabe Polsky, Liam Satre-Meloy
Based on Butcher's Crossing by John Edward Williams
Produced by Gabe Polsky, Molly Conners, Amanda Bowers, Will Clarke, Andy Mayson
Starring Nicolas Cage, Fred Hechinger, Xander Berkeley, Rachel Keller, Jeremy Bobb, Paul Raci
Cinematography : David Gallego
Edited by Nick Pezzillo
Music by Leo Birenberg
Production companies : Altitude Film Entertainment, Ingenious Media, Gabe Polsky Productions, Phiphen Pictures
Distributed by Saban Films
Release dates : September 9, 2022 (TIFF), October 20, 2023 (United States)
Running time : 105 minutes

Viewed on October 18, 2023 (screener press)

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