DVD Review: Broken Trail
By Jeff Swindoll Sep 5, 2006, 14:54 GMT
Based on the novel by Alan Geoffrion, who spent five years researching the history behind the story, Broken Trail is set in the waning days of the Old West. Veteran rancher Print Ritter (Duvall) and his nephew Tom Harte (Church) set out on an arduous horse drive from Oregon to Wyoming. On the trail, they risk their lives to save five innocent Chinese girls who have been sold into prostitution. ...more
American Movie Classics is not a channel that I watch, but if they keep producing fine mini-series such as Broken Trail and importing shows like Hustle, I may have to change my tune.
The time is 1898 and five Chinese girls are sold to the smarmy Captain Billy Fender (James Russo) for transport to a brothel. Meanwhile, Tom (Thomas Haden Church) is working as a hand on a ranch when his Uncle Prentice “Print” Ritter (Robert Duvall) rides into the ranch. He’s come to tell Tom that his mother has died and even worse has left the family farm to Print and not Tom. However, Print has an idea and wants his nephew to be his partner in it.
He wants to buy some horses by mortgaging the farm and herd them to Sheridan, Wyoming where Moncrieffe (Duncan Fraser) will pay top dollar for quality horses for the British war efforts. Tom decides to go along with his uncle’s plan and they buy the horses and set out on the trail to Wyoming. Along the way they stop for a respite and Tom goes into town, but returns with another man names Gilpin (Scott Cooper) who joins them on the trail.
Along the way they meet up with the our smarmy Captain, who camps with them overnight. He also drugs the whiskey and takes off with the group’s moneybox and pack horses. He leaves them four of the Chinese girls, I suppose in his way of trade, but Tom sets out to reclaim their property. Print re-christens the girls One, Two, Three, and Five and they call him “Honkle Pren.” [No. 5 is really called Ging Wa (Valerie Tian), No. 4 is Ye Fung (Olivia Cheng), No. 3 is Sun Fu (Gwendoline Yeo), No. 2 is Mai Ling (Caroline Chan), and No. 1 is Xing Moon (Jadyn Wong)].
Tom has caught up to Captain Billy, who took off with girl number Four, and makes him a nice necktie out of one of his best ropes – thoughtful fellow that Tom, Billy was definitely in need of it. Meanwhile, “Big Ears” Bywater (Chris Mulkey) has just been released from prison and has gone to “Big Rump” Kate’s (Rusty Schwimmer) brothel. She wants him to set off to find Captain Billy who is late in bring her new Chinese girls. Bywater refuses and would rather go to visit his favorite whore Nola (Greta Scacchi). Tom and Gilpin ride into Kate’s town to try and find an authority to take the Chinese girls to safety on Print’s orders.
Instead what they find is a town without a sheriff or any other authority, a pissed off Kate, but they do pick up Lung Hay (Donald Fong) who can translate for them. They barely make it out of town and end up with another passenger in the form of Nola who is on the run from Bywater. Bywater could really care less until Kate tells him that it was Nola who was responsible for his going to prison, so he sets out to get the Chinese girls for Kate and revenge himself upon Nola. So our group has to get the horses to market and keep ahead of the villainous Bywater.
Robert Duvall sees Broken Trail as the final part of a trilogy began with Lonesome Dove and continued by Open Range. I hope that doesn’t mean that you’re not making any more westerns Mr. Duvall because they’re the thing in which you shine (alright he shines in just about anything, but I have a soft spot for Westerns).
Broken Trail is no exception and is an excellent mini-series and Western. As I said in the opening, I really don’t like American Movie Classics anymore. They were fine in the beginning but they started to break up their features with commercials (sometimes somewhat awkwardly) and I lost love for them. I hate to admit it, but I’m starting to come back around (but it has nothing to do with their movies) in that they’ve put on some great programming as of late.
Broken Trail is the first mini-series exclusively produced for AMC and it is a quality product (They’ve also imported the groovy BBC series Hustle). Duvall is truly the star of the piece, but I have to say that he was given ample support by Thomas Haden Church and the rest of the performers.
The film almost has a “true story” feel to it (the writer Alan Geoffrion liked to say that it wasn’t based on a true story, but was based on several true stories – even one from Robert Duvall’s great grandfather) and even has a text epilogue that makes you think that the characters were real.
Broken Trail is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Special features include the 23 minute “Broken Trail: The Making of a Legendary Western.” It has interviews with director Walter Hill, Thomas Haden Church, Robert Duvall, writer Alan Geoffrion, Scott Cooper, Olivia Cheung, Greta Scacchi, Gwnedoline Yeo, Rusty Schwimmer, producer Damien Ganczewski, Chris Mulkey, and Kristiana Wong, costume designer Wendy Partridge, production designer Ken Rempel, 2nd unit director Alan Graf, lead wrangler Dusty Bews, and stunt coordinator Guy Bews. There’s also a 2 minute preview for Hustle which airs on AMC.
I thought that Broken Trail was an excellent Western and miniseries and fans of either of those will want to check it out. Robert Duvall and the rest of the cast are also excellent and I think that you’ll find Broken Trail and excellent way to spend three hours in front of the TV.