Friday, October 22, 2010

The Last Rites of Ransom Pride (2009)

Quirky Western with an impressive cast?  I'm in!

It's also done with a "hyper-kinetic" directing style reminiscent of Tony Scott's worst impulses?  Kill me now!

Yes, The Last Rites of Ransom Pride, from writer/director/cinematic-criminal Tiller Russell, was a total let-down.  The cast list is the only impressive thing about it: Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls), Dwight Yoakam, Kris Kristofferson, Peter Dinklage, and W. Earl Brown ("Deadwood").  Dwight Yoakam is just a darn good actor.  I haven't seen him in many movies (Sling Blade and Panic Room are it, I think) but he's got a delivery style that's very believable.  His performances aren't wildly different, but they're solid.  Lizzy Caplan, whom I liked in Mean Girls and the one episode of "Party Down" I saw, doesn't bring much to her character.  She doesn't sell the southern accent, and her character and performance otherwise aren't interesting.  (Tiller shares equal blame with Caplan for these problems.)  Kris Kristofferson does his thing, which is fine for what it is but never a surprise.  W. Earl Brown, whom I've never seen outside of "Deadwood," is exactly like his "Deadwood" character.  He's great at it, but no change.  Peter Dinklage isn't in it much, but he carried two sawed-off shotguns and looked crazy, so there's that.

Story-wise, this thing failed to captivate me at all.  I watched the first 20 minutes or so, then started skipping around, desperate for an entertaining scene.  Ransom Pride, a name I assume was intended to be loaded with meaning and depth, or at least "coolness," is a jerk who gets shot in Mexico.  His lover, Juliette Flowers (Caplan), who was not with him, goes to collect his body.  Apparently she's a bad seed too.  She brings the news to Ransom's father (Yoakam) and brother.  Ransom's father is a preacher!  DEEP.  Used to be a bad dude.  NEW.  And Kris's character's name is Shepherd Graves, another name I assume is supposed to be meaningful but just comes off as pretentious or hipster cool.

So now there's the style to discuss.  First off, the movie seems packed with ugliness and disgusting stuff just for the sake of it.  No meaning attached, just "look how edgy I am can you guess what color my shirt is?"  Like using onanism to introduce a character.  Nice!  Classy.  I get it.  You can show gross stuff because you're dark and edgy.  Then there's the editing/directing style.  Lots of weird sped-up or slowed-down shots of skulls and crows and dark things.  Characters speaking Spanish have their translations written in a sketchy script.  Shots of dark cloudy skies rumbling past sped up.  Black and white flashes to a character's dark past, accompanied by whooshy sound effects.  The color has been tweaked, drained of color, contrast upped, made to look harsh and bleak.  Set pictures I've seen online, with their natural color, looked a lot better.  Now, I hate Tony Scott's style, but at least he sometimes has decent movies underneath.  Everything in Last Rites just smacked of empty and artless self-indulgence.  I wondered if, at the first screening, the more discerning members of the cast thought, "Oh geez I didn't know it was gonna be like this."

So, hey, not that you've ever heard of the movie, but avoid it like the plague!

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