Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Man Who Came Back: Grade F

The Man Who Came Back (2008)
Eric Braeden, James Patrick Stuart, George Kennedy, Armand Assante; Co-writer and Director Glen Pitre.

I don’t normally take the trouble to review movies that I don’t feel have anything to offer, but this one fails in so many interesting ways that it might be worth talking about. In the 1860’s right after the Civil War a plantation supervisor (Braeden) speaks to the plantation boss (Kennedy) about how his arrogant son (Stuart) apparently has not received the memo that the slaves are free, and has been treating them cruelly. The boss fires the super on the spot for being an abject nigger lover and puts the arrogant son in charge instead.

In fact, the old cowboy is then accused of killing one of the black men in a sort of Crossbow Incident scene. The accusation is a fabrication, but everybody backs up the evil boss and his son. To make things about as mean as they could be, the evil son cages the super and makes him watch as he and his men rape his wife and throw his young boy down a well. That would make anybody mad, for sure. The old cowboy escapes from territorial prison, after several direct visual quotations from Cool Hand Luke, and goes back to town for revenge, killing at least half a dozen of the ordinary townsfolk who falsely spoke against him and of course the plantation owner and his son.

I love a revenge story and I enjoy a good western so I had hoped this would be along the lines of the terrific Steve McQueen film, Nevada Smith (1966). And maybe it is vaguely like that in structure, but there is no drama here. The lead cowboy, Braeden, has only one look, a stoneface gaze with head tipped down, eyes staring from under furrowed brow. It’s a good look, but it’s his only one. Also he rides a horse well, I’ll give him that. Despite being in his 60’s the character can absorb a severe beating without consequence and punch out a man half his age, not too believably however.

Kennedy gives an admirable performance with the stereotype part he has, but that’s not enough to hold up the whole picture. Assante has the perfect look of a sonofabitch cowboy, almost like Lee Van Cleef, but without the acting ability.

It takes an hour to get to the revenge part of the story but the prelude is so over the top it is ridiculous. A ten minute scene would have motivated the revenge. In the last half, Braeden casually walks up to each citizen and kills him. He is not tricky or stealthy. There is no tension, no hunt, no mystery. He doesn’t give a speech, the victims don’t plead. The townspeople seem disinterested. It’s just boring. Wow. How could a story like that be boring? That is aggressively bad writing and worse directing.

The costumes are ludicrous. All are spotless, new, perfectly stitched, pressed and starched, a stupid error, but also they are very fancy fine clothes, with many topcoats in identical shades of implausible purple. How could something like that happen? Was nobody in charge? Props are shiny museum pieces. Anachronisms abound. Slaves speak modern English. Buildings are built with modern lumber. The whore has tons of modern makeup, professional hair color and lingerie from Victoria’s Secret. Was this supposed to be a historical drama or not? The visuals are unimaginative, grainy, set-bound, and give no sense of time and place. Sound is muddy.

Oh well, that’s enough. There is nothing good about the movie, but oddly, it seems like it was a sincere attempt. I wonder how a movie like this gets made.

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