I don't think I will ever understand the disappointing backlash against this film. What I witnessed was not your typical "western" film full of passionate love and implausible events. Instead, what I saw was beautifully captured images, powerful acting by Damon and Thomas, a story that twisted further down a darkened rabbit hole than I was expecting, and this challenging character study that gave us a brief insight to a world that will never be seen by our eyes again. This was not the romantic film that it was marketed as, this was not the adventure that it was marketed as, but instead it was the story of one character and the tribulations that effect him on his journey into the real world. It is the story of a very compassionate man that sees the honest darkness of those around him and must face the consequences of his actions. It showcases amazing acting that may be a bit disturbing for the unfamiliar eye, but to me was nothing short of brilliant. Billy Bob successfully adapted the story from the page, but it was not the film that he wanted. Miramax butchered this film in the marketing aspect, which ultimately hurt it overall. I will never understand why this did not receive the praise it should have, but will never be ashamed to bring it out for friends and family to enjoy. This film was like finding a dollar in the couch, an unexpected surprise that keeps a smile on your face the rest of the day.
I have read several reviews that just completely dismantle Damon's acting in this film. While his accent does fade in and out randomly, it is the way that he carries himself and reacts to the situations that unfold before him that really showcase the true acting ability of this star. While I do not think that Bennifer has made the best choices to challenge his career, Damon continually proves that he has the ability to be a force in Hollywood. This film alone proves it. He built this beautiful chemistry between him and Cruz that teetered on fear and sorrow. He showed his compassion towards Blevins and Lacey continually throughout the film showing that his idea of friendship was stronger than anyone expected. His strength and will shined brightly when he was ultimately faced with death. These are all moments where other actors would have cheapened it up and tried to fake the audience instead of showing the truth. I thought Damon showed us honesty, he showed us a part of him that I was not expecting. If you couldn't tell already, he really impressed me. But yet so did everyone else in this film. I honestly thought that the kid from Sling Blade, Lucas Black, would never work again, and I was skeptical of him in this film, but he was exceptional. He took us away from his character in Sling Blade and built a whole new name for himself. He took the challenges of this character and pushed them out of the television. The same can be said for Henry Thomas that continues to impress me with his ability to capture his moments and make them so real. Finally, Billy Bob did a great job of casting the rest of this film to bring the images and feelings of the time period to light. I could feel the dusty world of Texas and Mexico through the smaller characters that he cast.
Speaking of Billy Bob, could we not agree that these actors wouldn't have been half as good if it were not for the amazing direction behind the camera. I wish that I could have seen his version of the film instead of the choppy Miramax version. He has a very gifted eye, and while sometimes he takes roles that I think blur that eye, he always seems to rebound with a very riveting performance. He is constantly experimenting with genres and styles, and this film shows that he can break traditional boundaries. The images that he captured on film help create this darkness that surrounded our main characters. The scene with the thunderstorm I thought was beautiful, as was the rolling Mexican landscape. He places us into the film as more than just observers, and that is a sign of a great director.
Finally, I would like to pose the question of why Grady was so infatuated with Blevins? There were several moments during the film where he could have simply walked away from the boy, and Lacey even suggested it continually, but they always stayed with him. I realize that a main reason may be to develop the plot, but I think there was a more symbolic meaning. I feel that Damon connected with the boy because they had a kindred spirit. Damon was this passive, controlled character that never really understood himself until later on in the film, while Blevins was this wild-hair that never controlled himself or thought about his decisions. It was as if they were polar opposites, but yet they were perfectly matched. I think Damon liked him because it was what he aspired to be. I sometimes felt that the secondary characters were not real, and sometimes they were just imaginary images of what Damon wanted himself to be more like. This thought created a much darker picture for me that forced this film to go deeper into my mind and be more enjoyable than I thought.
Overall, I really liked this film. While others will definitely disagree, I thought that the acting, story, and especially the direction deserved more attention that what was handed to it.
Grade: ***** out of *****