Believe it or not, both gunfights change the lives of the young men they involve. This is the opening premise of Cowboy Smoke, the new Western from Will Moore, currently touring the Film Festival circuit.
This isn't your typical Western, nor is it your typical Indie film. In fact, there's not a whole lot "Typical" about Cowboy Smoke. It's at once a tribute to Spaghetti Westerns and a very original film in its own right. It's at once a fun action film and a serious commentary on the society of the Border. It's at once a modern drama and a believable genre feature about gunfighters, land disputes, fugitives, lawmen and Desperados.
The film focuses on our two, very different, leads and their adventures (which kick into highest gear when their paths merge). Wes (Chad Matthews) is fighting for his life under increasingly unfavorable odds, while Joe (Mike Lutz) watches the dominoes fall before him, leading him to considerable luck and the kind of life he only dreamed of in that damned convenience store. There's just one problem... along the way he sees some horrible things and our idealistic young clerk-cum-lawman is soon facing quite a bit of peril of his own.
It all leads back to a human trafficking ring that both helps Mexicans illegally enter the country and hunts those who don't go through their own specified channels. While the underground of this small Texas Town thinks that they've got both Wes and Joe in their respective pockets, it seems that Joe has watched a few too many Westerns and is harder to corrupt than the cast of Sesame Street, while criminal Wes proves he still has a soul, even faced with the hand he's dealt.
The biggest problem with Wes and Joe being their own men is the fact that this criminal organization is quickly being overtaken by its favorite son, an unstable, wealthy thug named Indio (James Paul). Things go from bad to worse when independence becomes defiance and the good meet the bad and the ugly!
Of course there's always a lady involved in any good Western and Joe quickly finds himself in love with a beautiful Mexican waitress named Elysa (Estella Perez). Sadly for Wes, he's being pursued too, not by a beautiful woman, but by an angry Texas Ranger named Travis MacNeely (Matthew T. Johnston), who has a serious mad-on for Wes ever since the day his father (L.A. Young) died. Without spoiling anything on any of these emerging fronts, let me just say that there is no shortage of quality action gun fighting throughout this interesting independent film!
As a movie, Cowboy Smoke satisfies as much, if not more, than similar films of considerably higher budgets. The rotoscoped credit sequence alone adds an air of authenticity that never lets up, whether our characters are on horseback, on a motorcycle or in a suburban. Quite a bit of this is due to the fitting and rich score by composer Brian Satterwhite. Much of the credit should go to the cinematography of Stephen Acevedo. Naturally, the film works as well as it does because of the cast. Will Moore, as writer, director and more is the man with the vision here and he manages to create a very fine Western using some classic techniques without truly feeling derivative at any point.
In truth, the film isn't perfect, though it is damned good. There is the occasional piece of somewhat flat acting (though this is rare) and occasionally some of the motivations and evolutions of these characters seem to come out of a fortunate and super-powered left field. But it all somehow works under Moore's guiding hand. This is all a part of the vision he has. This is a vision inspired by true events, I might add. While most often the important social commentary inspired by the reality of illegal immigration and the profiteers thereof is handled very well, some moments work a tad better than others. Whereas a lot of the metaphor that Moore employs is both poetic and canny, occasionally it's hard not to note just a bit of preachiness in the thoughtful dialogue.
If that sounds a bit too critical, trust me, I'm not being harsh here. When one compares this to some of the highest calibre Westerns, like Once Upon a Time in the West, Unforgiven or The Outlaw Josey Wales, this one might not beat the band. However, the point is that this film can be considered with these very films in mind. I'm not grading Cowboy Smoke on a curve here and measuring it against other Indies only. This is a quality film that succeeds on most every level, even (and especially) on repeated viewings. The sound is right, the lighting transcends the film's budget, every fight scene seems real, every gunshot looks authentic, every musical cue fits the action perfectly. Hell, Moore even managed to get ol' Bum Phillips out of retirement for his first non-Football credit. (What can I say, my grandparents, aunts and uncles all lived in Houston... we pick up on these things!)
Once or twice I felt like I might have missed something in the overall back story of this film. That can easily be explained by the fact that this film is a companion piece to Moore's 2004 film Wesley Cash (also starring Matthews). At the time of this writing I haven't seen that film. After watching Cowboy Smoke I sure as shootin' want to! Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Cowboy Smoke, the modern-day high-quality Western created by the Production Assistant from Big Momma's House. Yeah, kids, let's not forget, I'm a comical critic, even in such a serious review. So, until los coyote gringos try to stop my South-of-the-Border readers from getting their hands on their minimum daily allowance of WorldsGreatestCritic.com, I'll see you in the next reel... where I'll still be shooting from the hip.
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