The Ballad of Lefty Brown Review
The Ballad of Lefty Brown is a 2017 Western about loyalty, friendship, and the relentless pursuit of justice.
The Western has pretty much been a young man’s game, but the best have always benefited from the presence of an older man, a figure weathered and tried by the conflicts of his history. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges – these are men who made some of the greatest films in the genre as characters well past their primes. Now comes Jared Moshe‘s The Ballad of Lefty Brown, putting another older man at the heart of the story, in a rich, deeply provocative film that is one of the best films of the year.
Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) is a sidekick, a seemingly slow-witted cowpoke who has seen all the best of his friends move on to great endeavors. His long time partner Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda), a man he’s rode with for forty years, is elected to a Senate seat, and letting Lefty look after his ranch with Johnson’s wife Laura (Kathy Baker) while he sets up. It’s a big deal, and Lefty isn’t so sure he’s ready for such a thing, but it doesn’t much matter since Johnson is shot and killed before he even gets a few miles out of town. Brown got a glimpse of the outlaw and pledges to hunt him down with his last breath, leaving the ranch and Laura in a spiral as marshall’s come in to track him down, forcing some back at the ranch to turn on Lefty.
Pullman has created a string of memorable characters of late, embracing his age with a kind of dignified eccentricity. His stint on the Netflix series Sinner is just one example, and now, here, he delivers yet another, arguably one of his best performances yet, making Lefty a man short of the smarts that have made others prosper but not lacking the wisdom to see things through. He’s lived in the shadows of better men and when thrust into action to do one justice, he rises as he needs to. He stumbles upon a teenager named Jeremiah Perkins (Diego Josef), who fancies himself a gunslinger but is far from it, and is then joined by Marshall Harrah (Tommy Flanagan), a man on his own quest.
Moshe clearly adores the genre and populates the film with many calling cards most will be familiar with, including glorious landscapes and breathtaking cinematography (David McFarland), yet doesn’t indulge to excess. This, like many of the best, is a character-driven film that is far more interested in developing its sturdy cast than loading it up on over-the-top action. That’s not to say there aren’t several tense moments of violence, but they are layered beneath gripping exchanges of dialogue and quiet moments of introspection.
What is most affecting though is the performances, with Pullman, as mentioned, leading the way, yet is nearly outmatched by a terrific turn by Flanagan, who is simply unnerving. Moshe gives these characters a lyrical sensibility, making every word they speak a joy to listen to, especially if you’re a fan of a well made Western. Everything Moshe does here is as respectful to the past as it is inviting of where the genre can go. The way he uses light and texture, sound and silence, the way people move and not move, it’s a truly great piece of storytelling that challenges us to consider our expectations of how it’s all supposed to be done. Greatly recommended.
The Ballad of Lefty Brown Review
Movie description: The Ballad of Lefty Brown is a 2017 Western about loyalty, friendship, and the relentless pursuit of justice.
Director(s): Jared Moshe
Actor(s): Bill Pullman, Peter Fonda, Joseph Lee Anderson