Based on the novel by Max Evans and directed by Stephen Frears, The Hi-Lo Country charted a long and circuitous route to the big screen, and the final result proves that the material posed a major--and perhaps insurmoun... more »table--challenge for screen adaptation. It's easy to see why this contemporary Western was once a coveted project of director Sam Peckinpah; its codes of honor, male bonding, and hardened morality would've played nicely into Peckinpah's artistic legacy. There are clear echoes of Peckinpah in the screenplay by Walon Green (who wrote The Wild Bunch), and while the movie is blessed by Woody Harrelson's vivid performance as a reckless latter-day cowboy, Frears fails to maintain a compelling tone and the rest of the cast nearly fades into the background. Billy Crudup (Without Limits) plays Harrelson's best pal, just returned to New Mexico from service in World War II with hopes of starting a cattle ranch free from the greedy clutches of a local rancher (Sam Elliott) who dominates the town of Hi-Lo like a bootclad kingpin. Harrelson joins in the effort, but tensions rise when he connects with the sultry seductress (Patricia Arquette) with whom Crudup has fallen inexplicably in love. Harrelson has provoked others as well, and he seems primed for a fall, but The Hi-Lo Country is a film out of balance. Memorable moments are found in abundance, and the film's period detail is impeccable, but Crudup's character is so underwritten and underplayed that his role as narrator and ostensible hero has minimal dramatic impact. By the time fate deals its inevitable blow, it's too late to care. Frears has suffered from similar missteps before (remember Mary Reilly?), and The Hi-Lo Country leaves you wondering what Peckinpah might have done with the novel he so dearly admired. --Jeff Shannon« less
Clark C. Siewert | Santa Fe, New Mexico | 09/21/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What critics can't understand is that this is the way these ranch people were and still are. I was partly brought up on a ranch in West Texas, near the Hi Lo country in New Mexico. Ranch People really do have names like big boy and little boy and often speak in a slow taciturn way like Billy's character. And there are a few wild ones like the Woody Harrelson character. What the film portrays is the genuine hardness of life and human relationships in this lonely stark ranching environment, which was even more so in the time portrayed. I have met all these characters many times in real life and this film touched my heart for a way of life which is still painfully dying. The film is a great slice of American life. I will be interested in seeing what the same critics make of the soon to be released All the Pretty Horses, similar in many ways and also filmed in New Mexico. Critics, how about some respect for new Westerns that do not star Clint Eastwood and lots of violence or showcase sentimental Robert Redford?"
Harrelson's Best Performance
Reviewer | 04/14/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This character study, set in New Mexico in the early `40s, begins with an enigmatic narrative that infuses "The Hi-Lo Country," directed by Stephen Frears, with a tension that ultimately runs high throughout the entire film. The story focuses on the friendship between a couple of cowboys, Pete Calder (Billy Crudup) and Big Boy Matson (Woody Harrelson), who upon returning from the war are trying to make a go of the cattle business, while bucking some stiff competition from the local cattle baron, Jim Ed Love (Sam Elliott). At the same time, Pete becomes aware that he is not alone in his obsession with a married woman, Mona (Patricia Arquette); Big Boy has it bad for her, too, and she just happens to be the wife of Jim Ed's foreman, Les Birk (John Diehl). And, as usually happens with a situation involving obsession, things quickly begin to get sticky for all concerned. Big Boy, it seems, is the one headed for trouble; he's hot-tempered, stubborn, and fearless to a point bordering on stupidity. Pete, on the other hand, has a good head on his shoulders and has a couple of things going for him: One is a woman named Josepha (Penelope Cruz), who cares deeply for him, and the other is his unwavering loyalty to Big Boy. The tension continues to mount, and the situation is complicated further by the fact that Big Boy isn't exactly discreet about his feelings for Mona, nor of his disdain for Jim Ed Love, for whom his younger brother, Little Boy (Cole Hauser) now works. Inevitably, things come to a head; but when it happens, the arena in which it transpires is something of a surprise, though not entirely unexpected. Frears does a good job of capturing the essence of another time and place that seems so near and yet so far away. The world was changing around them, but in the Hi-Lo country there were still cowboys who punched cattle and drove the herd to market on horseback. Theirs is a fairly self-contained world, far removed from anything that is happening elsewhere; if a butterfly flaps it's wings in New York, it isn't going to affect Pete or Big Boy. Frears takes a look at the difference between the two men, Big Boy, who lives primarily for the moment (or so it would seem), and Pete, who is more apt to consider the consequences of his decisions, except, that is, when it comes to Mona. But even in that respect, it's Pete who ultimately shows some restraint. And Frears maintains the tension by keeping the situation between the men and Mona precariously balanced on the fence. You know that someone is bound to fall, but you don't know who it will be, where or when. Crudup is convincing as Pete, bringing him to life with a reserved, understated performance. He brings an intelligent and introspective quality to the character that leads you to believe that Pete is always cognizant of what is going on around him, and where it's all heading. With Big boy, on the other hand, you never know if he's ever really aware of his situation, or if he just doesn't care. As Big Boy, Harrelson gives what may be his best performance ever. His portrayal is that of a true, rugged individual who keeps his deepest feelings to himself, but just may be a bit more savvy than he lets on. Initially, it appears that Big Boy and Pete are opposite sides of the same coin, but in the end you realize that they are not so different from one another after all. As Mona, Arquette gives a somewhat subdued performance. Though attractive, she doesn't exactly exude the kind of sensuality that would seemingly elicit the obsessiveness of the men that is called for by the story, especially in Pete's case. Knowing what you know about the characters involved, it is hard to believe that Pete would look past the lovely and more alluring Josepha for even a second glance at Mona. The supporting cast includes James Gammon (Hoover), Darren E. Burrows (Billy), Lane Smith (Steve) and Jacob Vargas (Delfino). A good, solid drama, "The Hi-Lo Country" may not be entirely original, but Frears has a nice touch and gives it a sense of realism that will get you emotionally involved with the characters and their story. And, upon reflection, it's a glimpse of a world that not that long ago was so much bigger than it is today."
SUNRISES AND SUNSETS
wdanthemanw | Geneva, Switzerland | 04/05/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Set in the late 40's in New Mexico, HI-LO COUNTRY has the nostalgic beauty of things passed. Pete and Big boy live in the traditional cow-boy way ; hard days in the company of cows and horses in the tough new mexican climate, heavy drinking in the bars of the towns at night and the usual women & rodeos cocktail on week-ends. But this life cannot last for ever. Progress, lawmen and fast money are killing little by little one of the most enduring american dream.Director Stephen Frears opposes in HI-LO COUNTRY these two different ways of life that can't live together. Curiously enough, the new generation is prompter to use guns in order to solve problems and young senoritas are far more rational than the sons of John Wayne. But one thing doesn't change in the turmoil of time : nature and its breath-taking beauty.HI-LO COUNTRY is a beautiful movie, an out of time movie which can reconcile you with true cinema. Note the wonderful musical score which explores with subtlety different atmospheres : country-music, folkloric tunes and lyrical LEGENDS OF THE FALL-like themes.A DVD for your library."
A Blank Spot on the Map
Douglas Doepke | Claremont, CA United States | 01/11/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The plot may creak a bit, but the film itself remains a superbly done period piece. It is Northeastern New Mexico, circa 1945, and the prairie vistas are wide open with an unbounded sense of freedom, but one that stretches out to monotonously barren horizons. Homesteading cattle is no easy task in the hardpan Hi-Lo country, and certainly no place for the Hollywood glamor factory. Except for a few questionable touches (Sam Elliott's leering villian, for one), the viewer gets a real sense of time and place, and of what goes on with the hard-bitten folks living there. The movie's core, however, remains Woody Harrelson's Big Boy whose boisterously callous behavior develops so slyly, you may not notice your own shifting responses. The jut-jawed Harrelson is near perfect, as are the cow town atmospherics with their smoky Saturday night honky-tonk. Seldom has anyone gotten a cowboy so right, and seldom has any film blended landscape of place with landscape of character more successfully than this one. Both demonstrate how sheer surface expanse can overwhelm frail emotional depth. Martin Scorese ( a most unlikely source for a Western theme) was a background producer, and I suspect it is he we have to thank for getting this very non-commercial story onto the video screen. Stephen Frears directs at a leisurely but revealing pace, allowing the occasional quiet but necessary moment to creep in. This minor gem should satisfy anyone curious about those obscure backwaters of the American West that appear mysteriously as blank spots on the road map. Despite undeniable concessions, Hi-Lo Country remains truer to its prosaic sources than the mock heroics and contrived mayhem of the traditional western, and is thus well worth a look see. Give it a try."
A tribute to Sam Pekinpah and Walon Green...
Thomas F. Redmond | Cleveland, OH | 01/12/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is basically for affectionados of Sam Pekinpah and Walon Green. The message of this film is that the nature of western life is underscored by the propensity of its people to live with recklessness and violence in generational terms. Think of it as sort of like, "The Wild Bunch" aftermath, about forty years beyond. While the "Wild Bunch" was about the west during the period of industrialization around the turn of the century, "The Hi Lo Country" deals with the period of superindustrialization following World War II.Woody Harrelson and Billy Crudup play two cowboys who fall for the same woman, Patricia Arquette. Harrelson as the violent "Big Boy" shows no sense of morality or humilty as the film's main protagonist, while Crudup as "Pete" is almost the exact opposite. Sam Elliot portrays a villanous rancher/industrialist, while the desirable Penelope Cruz is the overlooked, unrequitted love in Pete's life. All of the actors turn in solid performances, but what makes this film special is the story itself, the direction, and Jerry Goldsmith's subtle, forceful soundtrack."