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The Hi-Lo Country
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The Hi-Lo Country More at IMDbPro »

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18 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

When The World Was Bigger

Author: jhclues from Salem, Oregon
14 April 2001

This character study, set in New Mexico in the early ‘40s, begins with an enigmatic narrative that infuses `The Hi-Lo Country,' directed by Stephen Frears, with a tension that ultimately runs high throughout the entire film. The story focuses on the friendship between a couple of cowboys, Pete Calder (Billy Crudup) and Big Boy Matson (Woody Harrelson), who upon returning from the war are trying to make a go of the cattle business, while bucking some stiff competition from the local cattle baron, Jim Ed Love (Sam Elliott). At the same time, Pete becomes aware that he is not alone in his obsession with a married woman, Mona (Patricia Arquette); Big Boy has it bad for her, too, and she just happens to be the wife of Jim Ed's foreman, Les Birk (John Diehl). And, as usually happens with a situation involving obsession, things quickly begin to get sticky for all concerned. Big Boy, it seems, is the one headed for trouble; he's hot-tempered, stubborn, and fearless to a point bordering on stupidity. Pete, on the other hand, has a good head on his shoulders and has a couple of things going for him: One is a woman named Josepha (Penelope Cruz), who cares deeply for him, and the other is his unwavering loyalty to Big Boy. The tension continues to mount, and the situation is complicated further by the fact that Big Boy isn't exactly discreet about his feelings for Mona, nor of his disdain for Jim Ed Love, for whom his younger brother, Little Boy (Cole Hauser) now works. Inevitably, things come to a head; but when it happens, the arena in which it transpires is something of a surprise, though not entirely unexpected.

Frears does a good job of capturing the essence of another time and place that seems so near and yet so far away. The world was changing around them, but in the Hi-Lo country there were still cowboys who punched cattle and drove the herd to market on horseback. Theirs is a fairly self-contained world, far removed from anything that is happening elsewhere; if a butterfly flaps it's wings in New York, it isn't going to affect Pete or Big Boy. Frears takes a look at the difference between the two men, Big Boy, who lives primarily for the moment (or so it would seem), and Pete, who is more apt to consider the consequences of his decisions, except, that is, when it comes to Mona. But even in that respect, it's Pete who ultimately shows some restraint. And Frears maintains the tension by keeping the situation between the men and Mona precariously balanced on the fence. You know that someone is bound to fall, but you don't know who it will be, where or when.

Crudup is convincing as Pete, bringing him to life with a reserved, understated performance. He brings an intelligent and introspective quality to the character that leads you to believe that Pete is always cognizant of what is going on around him, and where it's all heading. With Big boy, on the other hand, you never know if he's ever really aware of his situation, or if he just doesn't care. As Big Boy, Harrelson gives what may be his best performance ever. His portrayal is that of a true, rugged individual who keeps his deepest feelings to himself, but just may be a bit more savvy than he lets on. Initially, it appears that Big Boy and Pete are opposite sides of the same coin, but in the end you realize that they are not so different from one another after all.

As Mona, Arquette gives a somewhat subdued performance. Though attractive, she doesn't exactly exude the kind of sensuality that would seemingly elicit the obsessiveness of the men that is called for by the story, especially in Pete's case. Knowing what you know about the characters involved, it is hard to believe that Pete would look past the lovely and more alluring Josepha for even a second glance at Mona.

The supporting cast includes James Gammon (Hoover), Darren E. Burrows (Billy), Lane Smith (Steve) and Jacob Vargas (Delfino). A good, solid drama, `The Hi-Lo Country' may not be entirely original, but Frears has a nice touch and gives it a sense of realism that will get you emotionally involved with the characters and their story. And, upon reflection, it's a glimpse of a world that not that long ago was so much bigger than it is today. I rate this one 7/10.

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12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

A Good modern Western

Author: Tilly Gokbudak from Roanoke, Va.
11 December 2002

I was surprised and disappointed to see this film only get a 6.0 in the database. I am giving it a 7 because Penelope Cruz, who I respect as an actress- amazing beauty aside- doesn't quite fit into this film. Otherwise, the directing from Stephen Frears, who has tried (it seems) as many genres as Howard Hawks, is solid. Billy Crudup, Patty Arquette and even Woody Harrelson (still want my $ back from NBK even though it's been a decade now!) is quite good in this. It is very hard to make Westerns these days, and I'm sure the box office from this film won't help. But, along with "Dead Man" and "Unforgiven," this film proves it can be done. Worth a look, especially for those of us ( a minority in my generation- GEN X) who still apprecaite the Western as a genre and as an art form.

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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

A Great Movie Western

Author: Zilla-4
5 September 1999

This is a wonderful movie produced by Martin Scorcese's group and is the best contemporary western I've seen since "Unforgiven". In some ways it is like a Cormac McCarthy novel brought to life. It has a mature and literate screenplay by Walon Green, is well acted by Billy Crudup and Woody Harrelson, has strong supporting performances by a large and perfectly cast group of actors (including Patricia Arquette, Katy Jurado, Sam Elliott, and Penelope Cruz), is beautifully photographed by Oliver Stapleton against spectacular backdrops in New Mexico, is very well directed by Stephen Frears, and has a haunting score by the superb Carter Burwell. Only an overly sentimental last scene weakens an otherwise great film, but the movie is still well worth seeing.

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10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

This movie could have been great

Author: panicwatcher from Arden Hills, Minnesota, USA
11 May 2002

This movie has all the ingredients to make a great movie. It is beautifully photographed with wonderful western landscapes. It has one of Woody Harrelson's best performances as a hard drinking, hard working, hard loving good old boy rancher. It has excellent support from Sam Elliot, Billy Crudup and Penelope Cruz. It is set in the late 40's, early 50's when small independent ranchers are being replaced by large commercial farms.

The problem with this movie is that is focuses way too much on the three way relationship between Billy Crudup, Woody Harrelson and Patricia Arquette. Arquette and Harrelson are lovers and Crudup lusts after Arquette. This relationship is not believable because Arquette's character is untrustworthy, amoral, and a liar. The woman who is more interested in Crudup is the Penelope Cruz character. The movie never explains why Crudup would prefer Arquette over the much more beautiful and sexy Cruz.

The Sam Elliot character is wasted. He does a good job of portraying the businessman rancher. He is not evil, but all the small time ranchers hate him because he is contributing to, and a symbol of, the end of small ranches. But it is not Sam Elliot that is destroying the small ranches, it is the progress of commercialization which Sam Elliot represents. It is this contradiction between good person Sam Elliot is and the evil that he represents that makes is character so interesting. This movie should have been more about Sam Elliot.

The movie falls apart into silly soap opera / action movie like scenes at the end. It abandons the interesting character study and gives us emergency rescues in a storm, deaths, murders, cover-ups and "dramatic" revelations. Those scenes belong in some other movie.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:


Author: Piotr ( from Sosnowiec, Poland
11 March 2012

Set in the late 1940s, The Hi-Lo Country is a strange mix of drama, romance, western, buddy movie and something that can be best described as an Americana version of Latin America's magical realism: there's even a witch telling the future, and her prophecy fulfills! The movie does not offer much in terms of action: it rather sets out to be a "slice-of-life" piece, taking a look both at the events and the changes occurring in all the lead characters. I can understand this kind of approach can be disliked by some viewers; still, I found this movie interesting and somewhat underrated (picked it one evening on the cable). If you like a movie that emphasizes the mood instead of the actual action and with a strong cast ensemble (watch for Northern Exposure's Darren Burrows!), this is for you. 7 out of 10.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Good ''modern'' western

Author: Ryu_Darkwood from Netherlands
24 June 2007

I really enjoyed this ''modern'' western about two young war veterans coming back home from the war zone and trying to make a living by working as old-fashioned cowboys. Pete Calder ( Billy Crudup ) is the shy and reserved one, Big Boy ( Woody Harrelson ) the risk taker with the biggest mouth and smoothest bluffing skills. Their friendship is threatened by the lovely Mona ( Patriccia Arquette ); an adulteress, sending in mixed signals to both of the boys.

You know, I sometimes don't get it why good movies get low or mediocre scores. The way I see it, this movie has its flaws, but it is almost as good as the recent Brokeback Mountain. I really like this epic story about unreachable love and jealousy at someone you consider as a true friend. Add the intense bar fights, gorgeous scenery and a top cast, I'd say this is a very good movie. The only thing I have to comment is that some of the characters just don't get so much attention as they deserve ( like the Mexican guy or Hoover Young ). It felt as if their characters had an important role in the novel, but there just wasn't the time for them in this movie to give them their deserved deep layer. Alas, I can live with that.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

overall, enjoying, but not without flaws

Author: lumpynose from near SF, California
3 November 2002

Overall I enjoyed this movie. It wasn't great, and yet it wasn't bad.

I found Woody Harrelson's acting lacking; something about it just didn't make me believe him as the brash, swaggering cowboy. Billy Crudup's acting was very good and believable. Crudup did such a good job that it made me wish that they'd used someone as good as him for Harrelson's part; it would have the movie a lot better.

The story was a bit hard to swallow; Crudup was in love with the same woman, Patricia Arquette, that Harrelson was, but she was too unlikable and shallow and I couldn't understand how he could have the hots for such a loser of a woman.

The ending had a nice twist; the way the movie started it made you think it was going to end one way but it ended differently than you were led to believe. The ending was also bittersweet which gave it a nice finish.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Passionate, entertaining western melodrama

Author: Paolo A. Gardinali from United States
17 December 1998

The Hi-Lo Country has it all: male bonding, bar fights, passion and obsession. The characters reflect the brutality and the charm of old ways which refuse to die. Great performances by Woody Harrelson and the younger Billy Crudup who star as lifelong friends whose world made of land and cattle start changing under their feet after their return from World War II.

The Hi-Lo Country is an involving, intense and somewhat nostalgic western which tries to abandon traditional plot lines while using all the classic western cliches. Strongly advised to people who like some "melo" in their "drama".

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Hi-Low Characters/Plot are Near perfect

Author: ( from United States
2 August 2009

HI-LOW's characters, with Big Boy and Pete central, and Mona as the obsessive lure for both, were perfectly developed and portrayed. Big Boy was a prototypical strutting, macho "stud duck" in a remote west-Texas grain farming and cattle region, along the base of the sharp, towering escarpment which splits the LOW and HIGH PLAINS. Big Boy and Pete were among the WWII combat veterans returning home to find draft dodgers acquiring property and wealth by any means -- most often questionable legal tactics. This happened throughout the Western U.S., even the Mid-West and South East. Many of these accumulated great wealth, but without respect within their communities or region. That lack of respect continues for many of their wealthy families to this date among "natives." Mona represented forbidden fruit, not because of anything she controlled, because she was a lost soul out of control, trapped in a miserable marriage to one of the despised prototypes of the era, a WWII draft dodger, who was foreman for the villain's growing ranch. Sam Elliott's villain earned the scorn by becoming a totally unscrupulous wealthy draft dodger. Mona was a poor, ill-educated nearly starving woman during the war years, forced to make a choice between abject poverty and creature comforts in a loveless marriage as trophy wife to a cowardly excuse of a man. "Draft Dodging" was the one unforgivable sin for any man of that era. Sleeping with his wife, and taking her, was "morally right." The Cruz character could not have more perfectly developed and portrayed as a young Latina woman, a "Mexican" in that culture. English was not her primary language. Attractive, and especially "available" Latinas were welcome to dance in the "whites' tonks", while in most communities, "Mexican" males might be permitted to stand along a back wall. At the end, while loving her, Pete still walked away because mixed marriage was unacceptable. In remote 1940s western areas, "dime vending machines' were common.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

There is a thin line between downbeat and flat.

Author: Darragh O' Donoghue ( from Dublin, Ireland
9 August 1999

The point of this exercise escapes me. Today, in 1999, there are probably two valid reasons for reviving a relic of a genre - to provide an old-fashioned, nostalgic, action-packed adventure, or to remould the Western in our age's image, to try to see what the form can say about us, our ideologies, and, most importantly, our relation to history. This film does neither.

On the one hand, it has many of the virtues of the traditional Western - lovingly bleached landscapes; a pompous, overwrought score; cattle runs; male bonding. But it has neither a compelling narrative drive, charismatic characters, nor a mythic sensibility.

On the deconstructive side, it seems to want to critique the problematic values of the West. The maverick rebel versus corporate muscle is, as has been pointed out, a theme worthy of Peckinpah, but its treatment lacks his romantic passion, violent sympathy, or dynamic self-pity.

The hero, Big Boy, is, according to some, a subject of the film's censure, but the only fault I can find in him is that he is probably impotent, and if that's supposed to be an iconoclastic weakness, than the filmmakers are being rather macho. So he's a bit wild and brutal; he's also loyal, dignified and amusing, and Woody Harrelson invests him with much charm. The rest of the characters, especially Pete, with his wretched narration(there are never voiceovers in Westerns!), are dull and unreal.

Jim Kitses has called the film a melodrama, and to an extent this is true - this is no quest narrative; there is no building a white US culture, no battle between the primitive and civilisation as one finds in the Fordian western. Much of the action focuses on the domestic. A recurring motif is barbed wire, suggesting that the characters are as corralled as the animals they steer, in a prison whose walls actively hurt.

The film is also faintly unusual in having a woman in a pivotal role, although Patricia Arquette is, as usual, quite appaling. However, without me revealing it, the coda betrays all this, reverts twofold to the old 'Print the legend' pack of lies, and still holds out faith in the 'Go west, young man' myth, exactly as they did in the old days.

Stephen Frears has been praised for adapting to the mores of the Western, but this is surely untrue. Photographing desert landscapes, however beautifully, does not make you a great Western filmmaker. You must have a critical apparatus, whether its through the use of montage, like Peckinpah, or though music and composition, like Leone. As a revisionist, Frears has actually regressed from these masters. There is very little of his stamp at all, none of the genre knowledge he showed in The Grifters, one of the great films of the 90s.

He is best at revealing claustrophobic and deceitful sexual tensions and power games between small groups of (often related) people. There are some excellent examples of this here, especially when the four lovers gather after the barroom brawl; there are also a few good scenes, and gorgeous silhouettes: but mostly the thing flounders in its own insecurity and reverence.

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