Tuesday, May 30, 2017

DWF ’17: Cassidy Red

During frontier days, they never wrote songs about women who stayed home and darned socks. Of course, women were the subject of plenty of songs, but they were usually falling in love and/or seeking revenge. Josephine Cassidy is one of them. She intends to shoot down the man who killed her beloved Jakob like the rabid dog that he is. Rather awkwardly, that villain happens to be Jakob’s brother and the corrupt sheriff of their ailing territorial town of Ruby in Matt Knudsen’s Cassidy Red (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Dances with Films.

The piano player’s name is Cricket, just like Hoagy Carmichael in To Have and Have Not. He will be regaling Quinn, a much-abused working lady, as well as the audience with the bloody ballad of Josephine Cassidy. She was the product of the weekly unions shared by her brothel-bound mother and Cort Cassidey, a hard-drinking but still very lethal hired gun. Since she grew up on old man Cort’s ranch, Ms. Cassidy learned to handle firearms at an early age. In fact, her steady aim would save her future lover, Jakob Yazzie from the sadistic neighbor boy Tom Hayes.

Much to the peevish Hayes’s surprise, his guilt-ridden father decides to adopt the hungry Yazzie. In an even more perverse twist of fate, the restless Cassidy later agrees to marry the grown Tom, on the condition they will move somewhere with greater opportunities in life. Yet, as soon as Cassidy is thrown together with Jakob, the old sparks fly. Much to everyone’s embarrassment, Hayes arrives home in time to witness her unfaithfulness—and immediately starts planning his grand revenge. Of course, revenge will lead to more revenge. However, to get the job done right, she will need some special tutoring from her dear father.

In fact, the complicated relationship between the Cassidy father and daughter is one of the best aspects of Red. Rick Cramer is just terrific as the world weary but still cocky Cort. He sort of has the look and demeanor of a vintage William Sadler, which is definitely a good thing. Abby Eiland is also all kinds of fierce as the titular Cassidy. David Thomas Jenkins is maybe somewhat more reserved as Hayes than genre fans would prefer, but we still buy into the acrid villainy in his heart. Jason Grasl is basically disposable as Yazzie, but Gregory Zaragoza adds the right jaded seasoning as Cricket.

Hollywood’s virtual abandonment of the western genre leaves a void more independent filmmakers ought to be rushing to fill, so cheers to Knudsen for staking an early claim. Red is a solid western that is traditional enough to entertain the genre stalwarts and just revisionist enough to feel contemporary in its attitudes. No matter what happens theatrically, it ought to clean up on VOD, because there is an under-served market of considerable size for precisely this kind of film. Recommended with a good deal of enthusiasm, Cassidy Red screens this Friday (6/2), as part of this year’s Dances with Films, in Hollywood, USA.