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The Ballad of Lefty Brown is a rough and tumble, old school western, directed with love and reverence for the genre. Writer-Director Jared Moshe in his second feature, and his second western, following his debut feature Dead Man’s Burden, clearly loves and respects westerns. The Ballad of Lefty Brown, while entertaining in its own right, is a tribute to westerns dating back to the 30s and 40s all the way through the Eastwood era of the 60s and 90s.
Bill Pullman stars as the title character, Lefty Brown. Lefty has for the past 40 years rode alongside his friend, western legend Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda), like a loyal dog. Lefty is one of those western story side characters who talks like an old school prospector, walks with a limp, and used to sacrifice his life for his oldest friend dating back to the days of Tom Mix and John Wayne.
Here, however, Lefty is brought to the fore after Edward is murdered by a group of horse thieves. Edward’s death, however, is only the beginning of a much bigger story that will bring Lefty back together with his other two oldest friends, and fellow western legends, lawman Tom Harrah (Tommy Flanagan) and the very first Governor of the territory of Montana, William Bierce (Jim Caviezel).
While Lefty stumbles off to try and catch Edward’s killer, Tommy is chasing after Lefty to keep him from getting lost in the desert. Meanwhile William is back at Edward’s ranch consoling Edward’s wife Laura (Kathy Baker), who fears that she may lose the family ranch because Edward did not leave behind a will. This is all playing into a fairly predictable plot but trust me when I tell you that The Ballad of Lefty Brown still has plenty of juice despite what you may easily determine ahead of time about the story.
Bill Pullman is a revelation as Lefty Brown. While Pullman has always been a reliably interesting actor, charming and compelling in the right role, he’s never been as risky and brilliant as he is in this role. Early on in The Ballad of Lefty Brown I worried that his old timey prospector accent was going to grow tiresome but it quickly grew on me. Pullman brings a genuine pathos to the old timey quirks of Lefty and I could not help from being entertained and moved by him.
The supporting cast is equally great with Sons of Anarchy standout Flanagan doing exceptional work as a lawman struggling with his morality and the allure of a good whiskey. Kathy Baker is steely as the film’s emotional core. You can sense she was just as tough as her husband just by the look in her eye, and the way she can kill a rattlesnake in a single whip snapping motion.
Writer-Director Jared Moshe is a future star director. His work is confident and assured with a wonderful reverence for the past and a great modern eye as well. Centering his story on a traditionally supporting character was a smart and refreshing choice and he along with Bill Pullman have given incredible life to Lefty Brown. Again, some predictable elements are at play in this story but that is merely a nitpick when the characters are this compelling.
The Ballad of Lefty Brown is available on Amazon Prime now. The film was distributed by A24, a company that is building a remarkable legacy with its releases dating back to Spring Breakers and including such modern classics as Green Room, Enemy, Under the Skin, and American Honey. The Ballad of Lefty Brown isn't quite on par with those extraordinary films, but it's definitely in line with the artistic and commercial sensibilities of this remarkable company.