I guess much of the appeal of the Western lies in that genre’s ability to wring emotion from, and make a character out of, its surroundings. Whether it’s striking dust-red buttes or endless, meandering plains, there’s much to be said of a lingering gaze across these vistas taking in the view at the frontier of a country the size of a continent. John Ford knew how to make the most of his spectacular Monument Valley settings, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Californian wilderness quite literally pulses and froths with the black-tar lifeblood of graft and life at the edge, and Leone’s rugged Spanish backdrops have a shabby beauty and lived-in feel. Turning your camera away from the actors and onto the nature’s own dramatic offering has provided filmmakers with impressive results and imbued a sense of character into the surroundings.
Kane Senes appears to be attempting something a little like this in his languid and dawdling post-Civil War storm in a teacup, Echoes of War. Dreamily wafting his camera through the trees and along the little river-beds that surround his characters, there’s clearly been much effort gone into emphasising the cruel beauty and sense of isolation so important to his vision. The director’s great folly is that much of this comes at the expense of any narrative cut and thrust. Idling along and feeling long for its one-hour and forty-odd minute running time, Senes has constructed something that goes well beyond ambitiously unhurried into downright tedious.
Back from the front, returning Confederate soldier Wade (James Badge Dale) finds the family of his late sister under the cosh from neighbouring land-owners the McCluskeys. In a land still feeling the effects of conflict and with food scarce, the ruthless neighbours, led by patriarch Randolph (William Forsythe) help themselves to the family’s meagre food supplies. Wade urges his brother-in-law Seamus (Ethan Embry) to confront Randolph and stick up for his own but Seamus seems unwilling to risk violence. With his niece embarking on a secret tryst with one of Randolph’s sons, Wade must take it upon himself to stick up for his family’s interests and confront the neighbours.
So, thirty minutes in and Wade squares up to Randolph delivering a threat that there will be hell to pay should he continue to poke his nose around where it’s not wanted, and precisely nothing follows. Senes seems to be more interested in having his characters worry at the prospect of unpleasantness rather than showing it onscreen. Whenever you feel the movie is ready to move into the next gear, Senes seems content to sit back and let all tension, occasion or drama ebb away.
Forsythe is capable as a snarling, villainous toe-rag, but his sneers and growls lack depth, although that’s not a complaint that can be laid at his character alone. Senes seemingly has little to say here beyond the well-worn ‘war is dehumanising’ message that has been done before and done better. Too often its seems that his preoccupation is with creating a sense of visual and lyrical poetry rather than telling a story. It’s admirable to want to stop and take in one’s surroundings, but it can’t be a mask for one’s shortcomings.
Director: Kane Senes
Cast: James Badge Dale, Ethan Embry, William Forsythe
Runtime: 100 minutes
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