Updated: Apr 17, 2018
“THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN”
Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD; 2017; R for violence and some profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube and Vudu
Best extra: Commentary with writer/director/producer Jared Moshe and Bill Pullman
IMAGINE a coming of age story about a 63 year-old man and you find the heart of “The Ballad of Lefty Brown.”
Western fans know the sidekicks – Gabby Hayes, Jay Silverheels, Andy Devine, Walter Brennan, Dennis Weaver. They were the hero’s best friends, helping him save the day, sometimes falling into trouble, but always standout and standup characters.
Set in Montana at the close of the frontier, the story is reminiscent of “Lonesome Dove,” with its band of friends who rode together, only to grow apart as they became older. Lefty Brown, in a fine performance by Bill Pullman, was Ed Johnson’s pal and partner. Johnson (Peter Fonda), a newly elected senator, plans to leave his ranch in Lefty’s hands when he goes to Washington, D.C., even though his wife, Laura (Kathy Baker) is against it. She feels Lefty is too old and, frankly, too dimwitted to take charge. Her opinion is validated when Johnson is killed while hunting a pair of horse thieves with Lefty. “You were supposed to watch his back,” Laura says.
Nobody knows that better than Lefty, who determines to go after the killer himself. This doesn’t seem to be a good idea, even when he’s joined by an old friend, U.S. Marshal Tommy Harrah (Tom Flanagan). He picks up a young man, Jeremiah (Diego Josef) along the trail. Inspired by tales of the Old West, the kid wants to be a gunslinger, but will soon learn the stories don’t have much basis in reality.
Lefty himself runs into shock after shock, especially when he finds he's been accused of killing Johnson himself.
“The Ballad of Lefty Brown” was shot on 35mm. Kodak gets a shout-out in the opening and closing credits, which the audience applauded Pullman says in the lively commentary he shares with writer/director/producer Jared Moshe. The film was mastered in 4K, but no 4K disc or streaming option is available. Perhaps we’ll see it later; “Lefty Brown” is gaining popularity as viewers discover it.
Filmed in Montana, cinematographer David McFarland maintains a warm palette throughout, with golds, browns, rust and green. Skin tones are natural and detail good. Still, there’s a hazy, dreamlike wash over all that exceeds film grain. Moshe and production designer Eve McCarney talk about filming, set and costume choices in “Designing the Look of ‘The Ballad of Lefty Brown.”
A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack delivers plenty of dynamic effects with horses thundering across landscapes and gun fights. Ambient sound – wind sweeping over the plains, rainfall – resonates throughout the room. Dialogue is clear, but some may want to use the subtitle option. Pullman’s Gabby Hayes-like speech patterns can be difficult. The sweeping, orchestral score is by H. Scott Salinas.
The three main bonus features are all good; full of interviews and production details and no repeats. In addition to the commentary and design feature, find “Bringing the Truth to Myth: Inside of the Characters of ‘The Ballad of Lefty Brown,’” with Moshe, Pullman, Baker, Flanagan, and Jim Caviezel, who plays Governor Jimmy Bierce. There are nine deleted scenes.
There are elements of history throughout Moshe’s film. Baker talks about Molly Goodnight, the “Darling of the Plains,” and inspiration for her character. There are elements of Albert B. Fall, a Senator from New Mexico, and active participant in the Teapot Dome Scandal.
Pullman – “Independence Day,” “Lake Placid,” “The Sinner’ – delivers another unique performance as Lefty Brown. Moshe’s character-driven film feels authentic, a story as valid today as it would have been in yesteryear.
- Kay Reynolds