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The Hi-Lo Country Review

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Pete (Cudrup) and Matson (Harrelson) have both returned to Mexico from combat in WW II, both must make a living off an increasingly monopalised land, both fall in love with the same woman (Arquette).

★★★★★

There's a fair chance of running into a review of Stephen Frears' 1940s-set Western which goes something along the lines of "A Ford-like elegy to the vanished values of the vanquished West" or "A portrait of gnarled machismo in tradition of Sam Peckinpah". While there's an element of truth in each, it would be just as easy to compare the film with a protracted Marlboro commercial with all the dramatic tension of an episode of Bonanza.

Set in New Mexico in the years before and after World War II, The Hi-Lo Country tells of the friendship between reserved Pete (Crudup) and his ass-kickin' cow-buddy Big Boy Matson (Harrelson). Both have returned from combat, both are united in their struggle to earn a living from a land being monopolised by corporate cattle barons and both are in love with town temptress Mona (Arquette). While poor Pete has to make do with demure Latino lovely Cruz (you feel for the guy, honest you do) Big Boy makes hay with feisty Mona, enflaming her jealous hubby and driving a wedge between him and compadre that, one way or another, will end in tears.

Although there's promise in projecting an amatory triangle onto a backdrop of social change, the melodrama feels overblown in the first department and underdeveloped in the second. Oliver Stapleton's cinematography lends an Edward Hopper-ish desolation and there's a lot to be said for Harrelson's sinuous, spit-and-sawdust star turn, but with Crudup's character as dull as dishwater, Arquette's acting listless and Cruz badly miscast, he's left to go it alone. After the hugely likeable The Van, this, Frears' latest attempt to replicate his near-perfect slice of Americana The Grifters, strikes a low note.

After the hugely likeable The Van, this, Frears' latest attempt to replicate his near-perfect slice of Americana The Grifters, strikes a low note.