Wednesday, March 8, 2017
THE TIMBER (2015)
Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about the visual appeal of violence in the snow? Anthony O'Brien's western -- a northwestern really, set in the Klondike but filmed in Romania -- is another vivid example of the juxtaposition of "darkness" in a pristine natural setting.
The terrific cinematography is by Phil Parmet, and it's the best thing about The Timber. Unfortunately, it's practically the only good thing about the picture. O'Brien's story, co-written with Steve Allrich and Colin Ossiander, is a vacuous compendium of "dark" western cliches hung on the flimsy frame of a minimal story. Two brothers are hired -- ordered, virtually, -- to hunt down their murderous father for a bounty that will save brother Samuel's (Josh Peck) land from a predatory lender. Impatient to take possession, the banker and his minions threaten Samuel's pregnant wife, who has to withstand their siege virtually alone until a friendly sheriff rides to the rescue.
The brothers' quest is part Apocalypse Now, part Blood Meridian as they encounter a human menagerie of degenerate grotesques on the way to their father, who proves a big pretentious emptiness at the heart of this would-be darkness. Including a cannibal in the mix will only remind western fans with strong stomachs of how much better the same year's Bone Tomahawk was. To be fair, The Timber doesn't aim to be a horror western, but rather, I guess, an existential meditation on the darkness that supposedly links the old man and his other son, Wyatt (James Ransome), if not the entire gold-greedy human landscape. The actors try to articulate this through dialogue that either aspires to the retro-formality of westerns in the True Grit mode or echoes the surliness that's seeped into the genre since the 1980s. They're clearly not up to the task, but neither were the writers, really. And since the action really isn't that great -- though for all I know, the film's confused melees may be shot and cut that way on purpose -- you're left with some knockout visuals that just might justify 80 minutes of a western fan's time. Brevity is one of the few things the The Timber gets right.