Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) is a struggling cattle rancher in New Mexico in the 1880s. She lives with her two daughters Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dot (Jenna Boyd). Maggie tries to earn some extra money as the local “doctor” or healer. One day her daughters and two men from the ranch set out to brand the cattle but when they don’t return by nightfall Maggie starts to worry. Early the next morning one of the horses returns on its own. Maggie rides out to find them but discovers that the two men are dead. Dot is safe but Lilly has been kidnapped by a band of Apache Indians.
Maggie needs the help of her estranged father, Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) who left his young family, to live as an Indian, when she was only a child. He is her only hope of tracking down the Indians and rescuing Lilly before they get to the Mexican border where Lilly will be gone forever…
The trailers lead me to believe that this was a horror/thriller which it isn’t. It is a mixture of Western, drama and suspense with a supernatural element in it. The main strand of the story is the search for the kidnapped Lilly but also central to the story is the strained relationship between Maggie and her father who deserted his family. The father who once destroyed her family is now needed to help save her family.
What makes this film interesting is that, in a Western, it is unusual for family drama to be central to the story. The film looks at family, loyalty, relationships and bravery. It is also unusual, for a Western, that the lead role is a strong independent female character. Another element that adds to the movie is the supernatural threads that run through it giving a dark menacing feel. There is an interesting conflict among the mixture of “witch-doctor spells”, old wives tales, the bible and, of course, good and evil.
Overall the pace of the film is good but there are one or two slow parts in the middle where the story lags just a little. The outcome of the chase is cleverly delayed as you cannot be sure what’s going to happen as the story unfolds.
Cate Blanchett plays Maggie, a strong character who is desperate to find her kidnapped daughter. Emotions of desperation, protectiveness and courage are realistically and convincingly portrayed. Tommy Lee Jones plays Samuel Jones, Maggie’s father, a man who left his young family to live with Indians. With long hair and his weather beaten look he suited the role.
Jenna Boyd deserves a mention, as for such a young actress she is excellent. One particular part were she pleads with her mother to take her on the search for her elder sister is brilliant.
Eric Schweig plays the leader of the Apache band of kidnappers. He is a witch-doctor capable of casting spells and curses on his enemies, quite a frightening and ugly character!
Look out for Val Kilmer who plays a small part as an army general and is almost unrecognizable behind the beard.
The Bottom Line: A fascinating story and director Ron Howard gives the Western movie a new twist.