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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Jan Kounen
scr Gerard Brach, Matt Alexander, Jan Kounen
with Vincent Cassel, Juliette Lewis, Michael Madsen, Temuera Morrison, Hugh O'Conor, Ernest Borgnine, Colm Meaney, Eddie Izzard, Djimon Hounsou, Geoffrey Lewis, Tcheky Karyo, Jan Kounen
release France 11.Feb.04, UK 23.Jul.04
Wild West: Cassel (above) and O'Conor (below, with Vahina Giocante) play Mike Blueberry at different points of life.
French filmmaker Kounen (Dobermann) turns his hand to an epic metaphysical Western, blending action, romance and mysticism with this adaptation of the French comic book. It's gorgeous to look at, but alas, it never comes together meaningfully.
The young Mike Blueberry (O'Conor) is a Cajun raised by Indians after a horrific encounter in a brothel with the violent thug Wally Blount (Madsen). Now the marshal of Palomito, an older and wiser Mike (Cassel) is about to run into Blount again, resurrecting the ghosts of his past. Blount arrives in town on the trail of two conmen (Izzard and Hounsou) who are after a mythical treasure map. So with his deputy (Meaney), tough girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) and Indian brother (Morrison), Mike follows the villains into a wilderness that's both physical and spiritual.
Kounen films this with a vivid visual approach that's thoroughly cinematic and also echoes the style of a graphic novel with its expansive landscapes, haunted faces, textured surfaces and offbeat touches around the edges. It looks absolutely beautiful, and is loaded with sharp wit and snappy dialog. The cast is also fascinating--from Cassel's wide-eyed intensity (O'Conor is perfect casting as the younger Mike) to Madsen's casual brutality, from Juliette Lewis' tough-but-frightened edginess to Morrison's enigmatic earthiness. And it's great to see the likes of Borgnine, Meaney and Geoffrey Lewis (Juliette's real dad, playing her dad!) in solid supporting roles, although Hounsou is wasted and Izzard is as anachronistic as ever.
Where Kounen stumbles is in trying to blend a gritty thriller and mystical self-discovery into one plot. Because as it gets more spiritual and internal, it makes less and less sense, relying on far too much computer imagery to (unsuccessfully) convey the characters' inner journeys. After the complex, exciting and often chaotic set-up, this is simply too much! As everyone gets increasingly crazed ("Animals are beasts, but men are monsters," observes Blount), the film becomes something like Indiana Jones and the Bad Peyote Trip. At least the conclusion is tricky, but by then we don't really care.
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