Echoes Of War

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Echoes Of War
"Wes Cardino's cinematography blends the soft golden shades we associate with a homecoming with stark empty skies and long bleak fields."

The western is a difficult beast to pace successfully. In general, its strongest stories are its slightest ones, made powerful by brooding actors, strong cinematography and ambitious directors. They're long, lingering tales, making a virtue out of slowness. This film was expanded from a short and can definitely use the extra screentime, letting us see the slow burn of its central character losing his grip, but the result is a little too long to grip the way it should.

James Badge Dale is Wade, just returned from the Civil War to his backwoods Texas home. There's no trace of conflict having scared this land, no suggestion that anyone in the area was ever wealthy enough to own slaves. They're living hand to mouth. Wade's family, the Rileys, get by okay because they know how to trap animals, but their neighbours the McCluskeys are not so skilled and have taken to raiding their traps rather than setting their own. So far this has been politely overlooked - partly out of fear of confrontation, perhaps, but also out of a general sympathy bred by hard times. But Wade doesn't like it.

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It's a simple story that builds up in the traditional way, angry glances gradually giving way to threats and petty acts of violence that foretell something worse. Wes Cardino's cinematography blends the soft golden shades we associate with a homecoming with stark empty skies and long bleak fields. Many shots are framed by trees or rocks so that we constantly have the sense that danger may be approaching. The costuming and interiors speak of a longer spell of poverty.

Dale, who has played second fiddle in so many films (making the biggest impression as Michael Fassbender's sleazy boss in Shame), clearly relishes his starring role. He's wise to underplay it a little, allowing time for a sense of place to develop and for us to get to know the other characters. Unfortunately he doesn't quite have the right chemistry with the other forceful masculine characters in the film, so the film never achieves its potential in terms of tension. His most interesting challenge comes from Maika Monroe, there to play another character's love interest but delivering, in one powerful scene, a shot across the bows of macho western culture, a challenge to its essential selfishness. Once again she succeeds in marking herself out as a talent to watch, as somebody one hopes is destined for meatier roles in the future.

Echoes Of War doesn't try to surprise its audience. This is drama in the old style, where we already know what the end will be as surely as we know our own mortality; it's the agony of getting there, and the delight in a few moments of brightness, that should make it worthwhile. But although writer/director team Senes and Chriss, who took five years to make this, have turned out a product with no notable flaws, they have also produced something without a great deal of character. Longstanding fans of the genre are unlikely to find much of interest in it. Its young cast will probably win it a few devoted fans but given the degree of effort that has obviously been put into it, it's a shame the end product doesn't make more of a mark. They've learned the language of the genre well; now they need to find something of their own to say.

Reviewed on: 12 May 2015
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A troubled man returns from fighting in the American Civil War to start a conflict in his own rural neighbourhood.

Director: Kane Senes

Writer: John Chriss, Kane Senes

Starring: James Badge Dale, Ethan Embry, William Forsythe, Beth Broderick, Ryan O'Nan, Owen Teague

Year: 2015

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US

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