Notable Cast: Josh Peck, James Ransone, Elisa Lawoski, Mark Craven, David Bailie
There are two kinds of modern westerns. There are the artsy and atmospheric ones like Red Hill and then there are straight to home video entertainers like Dead in Tombstone. I loved both of the above mentioned films for various reasons, but that seems to be ends of the spectrum for modern westerns. The Timber is one of those films that tries to pull off a little of both and lands right in the middle of that spectrum – perhaps leaning towards the artsy and atmospheric side a bit. While the film certainly has its faults, it also happens to be a pleasantly surprising and very quick watch. A watch that has its charms despite some major issues along the way.
It’s the late 1800s in Alaska and two brothers (Peck, Ransone) are setting off to settle a score and collect a bounty. The bounty just so happens to be their father, but they are desperate for the money to save their home from foreclosure by a ruthless banker. So they set on their task ill equipped but determined to accomplish the feat…no matter what dangers lie ahead or what dangers they leave behind for their family.
|That's all we need: horses and guns.|
The core of The Timber is simplistic and layered with a ton of intriguing themes, moments, and characters. Multiple times during the film, it had me hooked with its somewhat simplistically majestic weight. The two brothers, the tough one hardened by the world played by Ransone and the softer, family man unprepared for what the journey may ask of him that’s portrayed ably by Peck, are an intriguing pair and when they are shown in the element they spark a fun chemistry. Unfortunately due to the film’s remarkably short run time of 80 minutes, they are not given a lot of time to really build their characters and interactions as much as one would hope. This is a problem with a lot of the various plots and characters. A secondary plot, one that has the young wife and mother of the younger brother fending off the bank’s hooligans with the help of his mother and a kindly sheriff, is horribly under written and not given nearly enough time to develop the fear and tension of their situation. Even most of the various characters that cross paths with the brothers on their trek feel as though they just need a bit more time on screen to develop their motives and how it affects the leads. There is a lot of layers to pick apart, but The Timber could have been a film studied in film school with about 40 minutes added to thicken the plot and characters.
The true shining gem of The Timber is the landscape and how it’s utilized though. The brothers are placed in the horrible wintry hell of the wilderness of Alaska in the film and director O’Brien has a winning knack of being able to capture the massive and claustrophobic landscape in all of its harsh glory. Just seeing these men have to walk through waist deep snow or navigate rocky mountain sides made me tired. The cinematography is Hollywood quality in the film and it really shines as one of the layers to the narrative that works better than it should have. The suffocating snowscapes are their own character and it’s stunningly well realized.
It does have to be mentioned that occasionally The Timber will lean from the atmospheric and low key artistic narrative into some genre territory. In particular, there is a sequence where the elder brother must use the help of a tongue-less mountain man to find his brother who has been abducted by a cannibal living in a cave. Truthfully, O’Brien and company shoot this sequence with the utmost respect and don’t necessarily cater to its exploitative nature, but it’s kind of an odd scene when the rest of the film is generally written and shot in a very realistic tone. This happens a handful of times and it does toy a bit with the expectations of the viewer. It’s fun, truthfully, but not necessarily the most cohesive pieces in the film.
|The snow. It covers EVERTHING!|
The Timber is a film that has all of the foundations to be one of the best modern westerns released in the last ten years. Unfortunately, it tends to miss out on really selling its characters, their situations, and the plot progressions by being too subtle and too short in its narrative. It’s still quite enjoyable in many ways with some fun performances, stunning cinematography, and a bitter tone to the film that cuts through the viewer like a knife. In the end though, it just doesn’t grab some of the great things about the film and run with them leaving moments to wander about the woods…looking for their own way home.
Written By Matt Reifschneider
If you would like a copy of The Timber, it drops on home video from our friends at Well Go USA on October 6th. Ordering links are provided below if you desire to be snowbound.