A quick look online shows that the duel is a popular topic for moviemakers, and has been brought to the forefront again in the Broadway musical Hamilton, (about Alexander Hamilton who died in a duel). This rendition is a western, and could be classified as a tragedy in the literary sense. It takes place in the 1800’s, opening with a duel in Texas and ending in the same town with a duel involving the son of the man killed 22 years before.
David Kingston (Hemsworth) is a Texas Ranger sent by the governor to investigate an area where Mexican General Calderone says his niece and nephew disappeared. As a matter of fact, there have been many reports of Mexicans who have gone missing from the same area. For his safety, David is sent incognito with the story that he is headed somewhere else. We can see a complication right away when his wife Marisol (Braga) insists on going with him. She is obviously Mexican, so going to a town that is suspected of killing Mexicans seems more than foolhardy, but she threatens to leave him otherwise, so he takes her along.
They are greeted in the town of Helena by a polite, smooth talking Abraham (Harrelson), known as “The Preacher”, who keeps a tight rein on the townsfolk. He gets them settled in a lodging, makes an impromptu visit to Marisol, and makes David sheriff. David quietly does his sleuthing and of course—since this is a western—must prove his mettle with the locals, particularly Abraham’s ne’er-do-well son Isaac (Cohen).
What David uncovers is major, and all the while he is investigating he has to contend with the passive-aggressive Abraham who creates a continual thread of ominous portents, aided by the open hostility of Isaac and his two sidekicks.
Director Kieran Darcy-Smith is successful in sustaining the aura of mystery and danger, and gives the viewer some explanation as to how the characters fit together. But he and the writer Matt Cook are not the most experienced in filmmaking, which shows up in questions about plot that remain unresolved. For instance, Marisol becomes mysteriously ill soon after The Preacher predicts her fever. After the ambiguous ending, we still don’t know exactly what happened or how she fits in with the characters other than David. On one occasion, she seems to complain about it. Another instance is David’s leaving his sick wife’s bedside and being out of town for an extended period of time without Abraham, who seemed to monitor him constantly, noticing.
Finally, at the end it’s not clear why the governor took no action on Kingston’s findings. We never see David send a telegraph (which he was instructed to do), and when General Calderon asks for the governor’s support in investigating the site further, it was declined. Maybe he didn’t want to start another Mexican-American war.
Woody Harrelson knows creepy, and his performance is superior in this role. He is electric in any scene he is in. Hemsworth is very good, although not quite convincing as a Texas Ranger. I was stunned to discover that Isaac is played by the same Emory Cohen who is such a hit as Eilis’ sweet American boyfriend in Brooklyn. He is as offensive here in his character as he is appealing in Brooklyn.
This is a western that raises as many questions about the plot as it answers.