A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Ballad of Lefty Brown is a revenge Western that focuses on a sidekick character, rather than a more traditional hero. Violence is the main issue. The movie has guns and shooting; characters are shot and killed, with blood spurts. People are also hung by the neck, with struggling and choking sounds. One man beats another mercilessly while questioning him, a bullet is dug out of a wound, the wound is cauterized with hot metal, and a rattlesnake is killed. Language is infrequent but includes a use of "f--k," plus "s--t," "bitch," etc. A secondary character has a drinking problem; he falls off the wagon and is shown drunk. A married couple hugs and kisses briefly. This is an extremely well-made movie that shows a deep appreciation and love for the genre, but it probably won't win over any non-Western fans.
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What's the story?
In THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN, loyal Lefty (Bill Pullman) has been riding with Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda) for 40 years, through many adventures. Now Edward has been elected to the senate and is headed to Washington. Edward wants to leave Lefty in charge of his ranch, but Edward's wife, Laura (Kathy Baker), doesn't think that the dopey, misfit cowboy can handle it. Before anyone can decide, Edward is shot and killed by a gunman. Lefty immediately sets out to find the killer and runs into a lone kid, Jeremiah (Diego Josef), who reads cowboy pulp stories and asks to ride along. Eventually, two other former partners turn up at the ranch -- Jimmy Bierce (Jim Caviezel), now the governor of Montana, and Tom Harrah (Tommy Flanagan), a former alcoholic-turned-U.S. Marshal. Tom rides out to look for Lefty, and Lefty convinces Tom to help find the killer. They do, but they also uncover a terrible truth. Meanwhile, Lefty himself has been accused of pulling the trigger on Edward.
Is it any good?
Writer/director Jared Moshe clearly loves and appreciates the Western genre, and here he's created one that's not only classical, skillful, and unpretentious but a fresh angle on an old story. Moshe finds surprising nuance by giving the spotlight to the traditional "sidekick" character, especially given the casting of the reliable character actor Pullman in a rare leading role. He gives a truly great performance, emphasizing slowness and a certain kind of prairie wisdom, completely disappearing inside his role. His Lefty Brown doesn't quite know how to handle things in civilization -- he even fights with a fence post in one scene -- and he isn't very good with rules, but he's perfectly at home while out on the range.
Moshe, shooting on real film stock, captures a lot of beautiful outdoor imagery in The Ballad of Lefty Brown, often framing characters against gorgeous overcast skies, with light beaming through at odd angles. He understands how to use landscape, trees, rocks, and even tall weeds for dramatic effect; he also understands all the rhythms of the great Westerns. As a result, his storytelling is rock solid, and the movie stays gripping and moving throughout. In the traditional (now smaller) hero role, Fonda brings a touch of grizzled grace, and Baker is wonderful as his feisty wife.
Talk to your kids about ...
How is drinking depicted in the movie? Does it look appealing? Is it enjoyed or abused? What's the difference?
What does revenge accomplish? Why do you think it's appealing?
Why are people drawn to Westerns? What does the genre have to say about who we are? Why do you think the genre is less popular today than it once was?
Is Lefty Brown a good person? Is he smart? Kind? Does it matter that he's interested in revenge?
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