It’s been an American cinema staple for over a hundred years. It’s also a difficult genre to take on now because how many cattle barons have we seen trying to take over a lone homesteader’s land? And in this era of lasers & dinosaurs, people can’t sit still long enough to enjoy a sweeping vista without needing a lens flare or an alien crash landing in the middle of it.
In The Ballad of Lefty Brown, Director Jared Moshé has done something that amazingly hasn’t been done before, at least to my recollection. Finally, we get the spotlight shown on the sidekick. The man that’s always come through for our heroes of the past finally gets his time in the saddle. Which leads me to ask “If the sidekick is the hero, is he the sidekick anymore?”… damn. My head hurts.
Existential discussions aside, Bill Pullman is the titular Lefty Brown, who is tasked to take over Eddie Johnson’s (Peter Fonda) ranch after he has been called off to Washington as the newly elected senator of Montana. While every person, including Mrs. Johnson (Kathy Baker), thinks leaving the bumbling Lefty in charge is a bad idea, he is stalwart in his decision. Lefty has always been the man behind the man. He isn’t used to being in charge and the ranch hands show him the amount of respect that most people have of him – none. When Eddie is killed, Lefty leads the charge for his killer while the rest of the ranch are left in a fog of confusion ,which puts an unwarranted target on Lefty’s back.
Moshé weaves a heartfelt tale of a man pushed through a rite of passage by his loyalty to his friend of forty years. He’s always wondered “what about the guy that always saves our hero?” and now we finally get that answer. Pullman captivates as the simple yet stubborn “Lefty”, whose indomitable spirit propels his charge forward from bumbling sidekick to relentless avenger. He persists like a river that refuses to be damned. Jim Caviezel and Tommy Flanagan, as the governor and U.S. Marshall respectively, round out the cast and solidifies an already strong story set against the beautiful Montana desert.
This was one of the more difficult films to get into at South By Southwest and the full-capacity roaring applause at the end is a good indication why. To this writer, The Ballad of Lefty Brown stands as the premier western of the past two decades. Yep. I said it. Not because of a tall, handsome hero, but because of the undying loyalty of his sidekick… which is the hero… wait… oh, you know what I mean.
Starring Bill Pullman, Jim Caviezel, Kathy Bates, Tommy Flanagan
Written by Jared Moshé
Directed by Jared Moshé