The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Starring Bill Pullman, Diego Josef, Kathy Baker, Jim Caviezel, Tommy Flanagan, Peter Fonda,
Every year I catch at least one western at the SXSW film festival. Maybe there is only one each year. Either way, this year it was traditional western, The Ballad of Lefty Brown. Jared Moshe’s story has a catch though, he offers the sidekick, the bumbling cowboy behind the hero, his own chance at the spotlight. Bill Pullman (Independence Day) is the reason to see the film. The scorched Montana range (which honestly have looked better in other films) in the background are nice combined with H. Scott Salinas original score; The best musical accompaniment I’ve heard all festival. In a scene where Lefty is stitching up a comrade wound, he begins to tell a story about a local hero. The wounded stops him, and asks rather to hear a story from Lefty’s past. “That won’t be near as interesting,” he replies.
Edward Johnson (Fonda) is a big voice in the biggest town in Montana during the State’s early settlement. Johnson, a man who did things his own way, is asked to represent the state as senator, putting his old pal Lefty in charge of the ranch. But just as the two were about to go their separate ways, Johnson is killed chasing off bandits on his land. Lefty Brown (Pullman), the only witness. Blamed for the death of Johnson, Lefty is run off by Laura Johnson (Baker) who must now fight to save her land according to an arcane law that passes property to the next male of kin. Governor Bierce (Caviezel) and US Marshall Harrah (Flanagan) come to pay their respects to their friend and see where Lefty stands on the matter. Determined to track down Johnson’s killer, Lefty sets off to avenge his best friend’s death.
Pullman is always the supporting actor, much like Lefty, making this quite brilliant casting.
“I ain’t got the sense to keep my mouth shut,” Lefty says. His determination is admirable as he goes up against ruthless killers and discovers quite a conspiracy connected to Edwards death. Pullman plays this role as hard as I have ever seen him perform. Squinting his eyes underneath an untamed salt and pepper beard that hides his recognizable face. Pullman is always the supporting actor, much like Lefty, making this quite brilliant casting. Here, he is given the chance to carry an entire film. It’s too bad Moshe doesn’t have the experience (only one other film under his belt) to elevate this beyond just a genre film, aside from telling a story about the antihero, the understudy.
Moshe’s screenplay wanes back and forth from moderately interesting shoot-outs and circumstances to quite predictable outcomes. The Ballad of Lefty Brown never finds the energy of recent westerns In A Valley of Violence (last year’s exceptional SXSW western) or Appaloosa. It serves its purpose by wetting the appetite for those of us who yearn to see the old west revived on the big screen. What it doesn’t do is create an immediacy for more western genre films. Moshe, clearly interested in the genre can hopefully return each round with a stronger entry.
Bill Pullman gives a career best as the western antihero who finds himself in the leading role.