(Robert Duvall, Thomas Haden Church, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / 2006 / Sony Pictures)
Overview: Set in 1897, Print Ritter (Robert Duvall) and his estranged nephew Tom Harte (Thomas Haden Church) become the reluctant guardians of five abused and abandoned Chinese girls (introducing Caroline Chan, Olivia Cheng,Jadyn Wong, Valerie Tian, and Gwendoline Yeo). Ritter and Harte's attempts to care for the girls are complicated by their responsibility to deliver a herd of horses while avoiding a group of bitter rivals intent on kidnapping the girls for their own purposes. Directed by Walter Hill for American Movie Classics.
DVD Verdict: 'Broken Trail,' a dream project for producer/star Robert Duvall, and AMC's first original film, is the spiritual heir to Kevin Costner's 2003 "Open Range" (also starring Duvall), and one of the most moving, involving Westerns of recent years. With a charismatic, extremely effective performance by Thomas Haden Church, as Duvall's long-estranged nephew, the film is one of only a handful of Westerns that combine epic sweep, superb characterization, and an understanding of the 'Real West', without shortchanging decency, or respect of an individual's worth. The era was hard, justice could be swift and brutal, and Duvall, as aging but upright Prentice Ritter, lives by his own rules; to protect the helpless in his care, to respect others, and to be unafraid to resort to violence, if necessary. Tom Harte (Church), despite some family history problems with his uncle, lives by the same code, and the two men, driving a herd of horses from Oregon to Wyoming to raise cash for a ranch, become the 'saviors' of five young Chinese women, sold into prostitution, who inadvertently fall into their hands. These are good men, in a jaded world, and their journey picks up other 'strays', as well as the women; young Virginian fiddler Heck Gilpin (an engaging Scott Cooper), is rescued by Tom in a saloon; aging Chinese laborer Lung Hay (Donald Fong), and careworn prostitute Nola John (the wonderful Greta Scacchi) join the group after Tom saves the Chinese women from rapists, in a boarding house/bordello. While neither Ritter and Harte were overjoyed at the strange direction the drive was taking, they would not allow harm to fall on 'innocents', and the group bonds into a warm 'family', with Nola and Ritter finding a mature attraction between each other, and Tom and Sun Foy/#3 (Gwendoline Yeo, who speaks only Mandarin, in the film), gently falling in love. Danger is never far behind them, however, as brutal ex-con 'Big Ears' (Chris Mulkey), with a score to settle with Nola, and a 'contract' to return the Chinese women to whorehouse owner Kate 'Big Rump' Becker (Rusty Schwimmer), trails them, leading a gang of killers. While the film is long (240 minutes), director Walter Hill, an old hand at Westerns (his "The Long Riders" is one of my favorites), keeps the story constantly engrossing, and Duvall and Church have a warmth and authenticity as the characters that will stay with you, long after the movie ends. Shot in the Canadian Rockies, "Broken Trail" combines grandeur and intimacy seamlessly, has moments of great humor to lighten the drama, explosive action, and a bittersweet sense of nostalgia. It is, simply, superb! This is a Widescreen presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and come with the Special Features of a Making of Broken Trail Featurette and some Bonus Previews.