Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Butcher’s Crossing, Starring a Bald Nic Cage

For the American Buffalo, Miller was a one-man extinction event. Somehow, the species survived him, but it was not for a lack of bloodlust. Not surprisingly, he finds the Great Western Plains increasingly sparse of prey, so he sets off on an ambitious hunting expedition. His party encounters some serious karma in Gabe Polsky’s Butcher’s Crossing, which opens this Friday in theaters.

Will Andrews is taking a break from his Harvard studies to find adventure on the Frontier. He has a particular bee in his bonnet spurring him to find a genuine buffalo hunt. This is a really bad idea, as J.D. McDonald, a crusty pelt dealer who once knew Andrews’ preacher father, emphasizes in no uncertain terms. Nevertheless, he has his heart set on it, so he unwisely funds the mysterious Miller’s proposed expedition to a hidden Colorado valley, where the you-know-what supposedly roam.

Miller is visibly erratic and he becomes borderline psychotic when discussing buffalo. Yet, Andrews is perversely drawn to him, partly because the dynamics of their party are so dysfunctional. Charley Hodge, Miller’s cook and wagon master is devout in a way that emphasizes divine retribution, which puts him at odds with the crude pelt-skinner, Fred Schneider, who goes out of his way to push and prod Andrews and Hodge. When the weather turns bitter, the tensions within the expedition steadily rise.

Polsky and Liam Satre-Meloy’s adaptation of the novel written by the late John Edward Williams (a longtime professor at the University of Denver, go Pioneers!), lacks the kind of incisive bite viewers will hope for. As a director, Polsky is not fully capable of corralling all the tension Nic Cage’s crazy behavior generates. However, if you have always wondered what it would be like to see Cage portray Col. Kurtz or Captain Ahab, this film will give viewers a pretty good idea.

There is some first-class Cage-rage in
Butcher’s Crossing. Jeremy Bobb is also impressively mean and nasty as Schneider. Xander Berkley is almost unrecognizable as crotchety Hodge, while Paul Raci memorably delivers McDonald’s words of vinegary wisdom. Unfortunately, Fred Hechinger’s tenderfoot Andrews starts bland and stays bland.

Cage does his thing (but this time he does it bald headed), which is reason enough to stream
Butcher’s Crossing when it hits the ad-supported apps. It also features some amazing animal wrangling during its thundering buffalo sequences. No animals were hurt during the production, but you couldn’t tell from watching it. Only for the Cage Crew in theaters, Butcher’s Crossing opens Friday (10/20) at the AMC Empire.