The Hi-Lo Country

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"A woman like Mona can drive men to extremes."
  • R
  • 1998
  • 1 hr 54 min
  • 6.1  (4,559)

The Hi-Lo Country is an American western drama film released in 1998, directed by Stephen Frears with a screenplay written by Walon Green. The main cast includes Billy Crudup, Woody Harrelson, and Patricia Arquette. The movie is set in New Mexico after World War II and follows the story of two best friends, Texan Pete Calder (Crudup) and local cowboy Big Boy Matson (Harrelson).

The film starts off with the return of Pete from the war, a disappointed veteran that saw his ideals clash with the reality of a war he did not believe in. He finds his old friend Big Boy working on a ranch, with whom he starts spending time again. However, their friendship is put to the test when they both fall in love with a married woman from the area, Mona (Arquette), as well as when the lawless actions of the wealthy McQuillans, a local family with whom they had business dealings, start creating violence and danger in the community. The McQuillans are led by Jim Ed (Sam Elliott), a larger-than-life character that challenges both the protagonists and the viewer at large.

The Hi-Lo Country pays tribute to the traditional western genre, with themes of masculinity, honor, and the struggle between wild nature and civilization, but also subverts some conventions. The plot, while following some of the classic tropes such as the love triangle, also touches upon more contemporary issues, such as the postwar disillusionment and the creeping effects of big business. The relationship between Pete and Big Boy is central to the movie, as it portrays a profound male bond that is neither caricatured nor romanticized. The two share a deep love for the land and the cattle, and also for the adrenaline of rodeo riding, which is a recurring motif throughout the film. There is also a lighter, humorous tone that arises from the witty banter and ribbing between the characters, especially between Big Boy and Mona's husband, which provides relief from the dramatic moments.

The acting in The Hi-Lo Country is a standout feature, with all the main actors delivering nuanced performances. Billy Crudup's portrayal of Pete Calder is understated and brooding, conveying the frustration and resentment of a man that sees his dreams crushed but tries to maintain some semblance of integrity. Woody Harrelson is charmingly boisterous as Big Boy Matson, a character that is both a clown and a warrior. Patricia Arquette as Mona is radiant yet conflicted, torn between duty and desire. Sam Elliott brings gravitas to his role as the villainous Jim Ed, creating a memorable antagonist that is both menacing and magnetic.

The cinematography of The Hi-Lo Country is also noteworthy, as the movie showcases the vast, rugged landscapes of New Mexico and the harshness of the weather and the terrain. The outdoor scenes are complemented by the score composed by Carter Burwell, which incorporates traditional western sounds but also has a haunting, melancholic quality that matches the mood of the movie.

Overall, The Hi-Lo Country is a well-crafted, engaging film that blends nostalgia and innovation in a satisfying way. It manages to convey both the harshness and the beauty of the western lifestyle, and also the complexity of the human relationships that revolve around it. The themes that the movie tackles, such as the effects of war, the erosion of traditional values, and the changing society, are still relevant nowadays and add depth to the story. The Hi-Lo Country deserves more recognition as a standout of the '90s western revival, and as a testament to the talents of its cast and creators.

The Hi-Lo Country
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 54 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.1  (4,559)