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The Hi-Lo Country (1998)

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Two cowboys have their friendship tested when they fall for the same girl.


Stephen Frears


Max Evans (novel), Walon Green (screenplay)
4 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Billy Crudup ... Pete Calder
Woody Harrelson ... Big Boy Matson
Cole Hauser ... Little Boy Matson
Enrique Castillo ... Levi Gomez
Darren E. Burrows ... Billy Harte (as Darren Burrows)
Jacob Vargas ... Delfino Mondragon
Robert Knott ... Jack Couffer
Sam Elliott ... Jim Ed Love
Sandy Baron ... Henchman
Patricia Arquette ... Mona Birk
John Diehl ... Les Birk
Craig Carter Craig Carter ... Art Logan
Penélope Cruz ... Josepha O'Neil
Walter C. Hall Walter C. Hall ... Auctioneer
James Gammon ... Hoover Young


An intimate story of the enduring bond of friendship between two hard-living men, set against a sweeping backdrop: the American West, post-World War II, in its twilight. Pete and Big Boy are masters of the prairie, but ultimately face trickier terrain: the human heart. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A woman like Mona can drive men to extremes.


Drama | Romance | Western

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some sexuality, a scene of violence, and for brief language | See all certifications »


Official Sites:



UK | Germany | USA



Release Date:

22 January 1999 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Hi-Lo Country See more »

Filming Locations:

Bernal, New Mexico, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$17,712, 3 January 1999, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$163,810, 14 March 1999
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Having spent a week volunteering for Mother Teresa's children's sanctuary, Penélope Cruz donated her entire salary for this film to the charity. See more »


After Billy urinates on Steve Shaw and the lawyer in the bar, different shots do not show any urine on the floor or table where they had been sitting. See more »


Pete Calder: I once set out to kill a man. I took pleasure in the thought of his death.
See more »

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User Reviews

There is a thin line between downbeat and flat.
9 August 1999 | by alice liddellSee all my reviews

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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