November 16, 2010

The Last Rites of Ransom Pride

last rites of ransom pride.jpg

If The Last Rites of Ransom Pride ever played in theaters, I completely missed it. It's not like me to miss a western, so I'm guessing it didn't have much of a presence. Finding it in the Redbox was definitely a welcome surprise.

Though it gets a bit disjointed in places, and is interrupted often by sped up footage and grainy images of cow skulls, the film's basic plot follows Juliette Flowers (Lizzy Caplan, who I loved in Mean Girls and shines even brighter here) as she struggles to bring the body of her dead outlaw lover, Ransom Pride, home for burial. Juliette is assisted by Ransom's brother, Champ (Jon Foster), who she helps with some much needed coming of age; a dwarf named Dwarf (Peter Dinklage); conjoined twins Cerce and Solomon (Alfonso Quijada and Rene Quijada); and the mysterious and oddly medically competent Sergeant (Blu Mankuma). Juliette and her crew face significant challenges, though, as Ransom's body is being held by evil and powerful village head Bruja (Cote de Pablo), and they are in constant danger from Ransom and Champ's insane preacher father, the Reverend Early Pride (Dwight Yoakam).

This movie does a very good job with race, gender, and abilities. Juliette is the star, and the film's central badass. I can't fault her as a character even a little bit--she's tough, she wears clothes, and even though she has relatively few lines, everything she says sounds so damn cool. Though she's motivated by a romantic relationship, and though we find out in the film's last words that she's begun another one, neither of them are the point--the point is that she's keeping her word. Women don't get to have honor for a motivation very often. The main villain, Bruja, is also female, and, though she's incredibly bizarre and I'm not quite sure what the filmmakers intended with her character, I can't really complain about it, either.

Taking place in Texas and Mexico, the film has both Mexican and white characters, as would be expected. Juliette herself is described as "half-breed," and I was unclear as to whether that was intended to mean she was half Mexican or half Native American. There is, as would be expected, tension between the white and non-white characters, but it's handled well, and, for the most part, the villains are old white guys. In addition, characters who are neither white nor Mexican are featured, including Sergeant, who is African-American, and Bruja's Native American henchman, El Apache.

The thing that impresses me the most about this movie, though, is the inclusion and portrayal of characters with non-traditional bodies. Peter Dinklage's Dwarf was completely unexpected when he popped up, and he rules. He is accompanied by conjoined twins Cerces and Solomon, who were even more unexpected. You simply don't see conjoined twins in movies, except for comedic effect, and Cerces and Solomon are serious characters in this film (albeit relatively minor ones). I really appreciated that. The best part? It's this trio, not the white, male protagonist (Champ), who save the girl at the key moment near the film's end.

This is an extremely strange movie--while some of is very much in keeping with a typical western (including the minor role played by Kris Kristofferson!), it's clearly been influenced by much more experimental film-making than one usually sees in the Old West. It is director Tiller Russell's first fiction film--his previous work is all documentary, and is co-written by the director and singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard (who also did the music, which is fantastic). After watching it, I still wasn't quite sure what I thought of it as a film--I definitely wasn't bored, and I think it mostly worked for me, but there were elements that left me completely cold, too (that damn cow's skull!). As far as heroine content is concerned, though, I'm giving this one full marks--I can't find fault. An unexpected four stars.

3 Comments

"between the white and non-white characters"

Just noticed this phrase. I see the point you were trying to make but the term "non-white" feels a little ick to me. Like we're once again making Whiteness the standard and everyone else the deviation.

Yay! Four Stars! Sure, in a film nobody heard about, but still – I'll check it out for sure.

Now, Hollywood, how about having a blockbuster like that?

That's a fair critique. I should have worded that differently.

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