Last Rites of Ransom Pride, written by Ray Wylie Hubbard, and starring Dwight Yoakam, Kris Kristofferson, and Lizzy Caplan, is like a Cormac McCarthy novel set to life: brilliant characterization in by-gone, almost mythical settings. This is not a heavily thematic movie, but there is enough plot and artistic attention that you do not walk away feeling like you indulged a guilty pleasure.
It is a dark, gothic-feeling Western, almost like an adaptation of a graphic novel, where a couple of steps in one direction could have made it outright fantasy. It is set in the dry and harsh Texas-Mexico borderland (though the film was mostly shot in Alberta), in the era when mechanization was beginning to take over mustangs as transport.
The movie follows the attractive Juliette Flowers as she treks to Mexico to bring back the body of Ransom Pride and carry out his final wishes to be buried next to his mother. She is pursued by Dwight’s drunken priest character and father of Ransom named Reverend Pride, along with bounty hunters hired out from Kristofferson’s character, Shepherd Graves. Flowers takes Reverend Pride’s other son Champ along as an exchange for Ransom’s body, which is being held by a creepily-deformed gypsy-like woman in Mexico named Bruja.
Along the way Juliette’s eyeliner never smears despite numerous fights and shootouts, and they encounter a wide array of characters, including an asthmatic motorcycle-driving buffalo soldier, opium addicted Siamese twins, and a midget with double-barreled shotguns permanently affixed in each hand and eyeliner of his own. The costumes are brilliant and spared no expense, though this is where it became almost fantasy, like a Mexican Mad Max. Interactions with these characters offered gems in the dialogue, and helped create wrinkles in the story that started out quite transparent, but eventually sucks you in just fine.
There’s no good guys in this movie, only bad guys and other bad guys on different sides. The 93 minutes goes by quick. Though the characters are rich and well acted enough that you believe in them, the relationships between them could have used some fleshing out. For example, Yoakam’s and Kristofferson’s characters are portrayed as former confederate soldier buddies, but their interaction is so limited, it is hard to appreciate their relationship. However Yoakam does an excellent job exploring the dichotomy between being a gory drunk and a God peddler.
Everybody is trying to either kill Juliet Flowers, or seems to be eager to kill for her, as her bust remains just one lose button away from stealing the show. The numerous occurrences when people are in a killing posture, but stop to wax longingly to their victim while someone sneaks up from behind to foil them grew a little tiresome, but did its job of keeping you on the edge of your seat. The movie ends when there is nobody left to kill.
The cinematography is spectacular, with the whole film existing in this sepia-like filter that sets the mood perfectly without being obtrusive or effecting the crispness of the images. Imaginative tape editing creates suspense, and the landscapes and structures in the film at times are breathtaking. It is almost like a living, wide format picture book. There are moments you wish you could push pause to just marvel and the images they created, and their use of light and color.
I’m not smelling any Oscars, but this film is worth seeing for country fans and the general audience alike, if only for the brilliant sets, and top-notch cinematography and tape editing.
3 1/2 of 5 stars.