FILM REVIEWS by ROBERT JAMES O'DELL
Feature Length Film
THE PAINTED WOMAN
2017 Not Rated
Kyle Allison is a beast of a benefactor. Having acquired Julie Richards from the town brothel years ago, he now has tired of her as witnessed by his constant denigrating she suffers, the physical abuse she endures from him and his rejection of her efforts to please and appease him. When Kyle's latest employee, hired enforcer Frank Dean seems to take an interest in her well being, she wonders if he could be the one to save her from an ominous fate.
The shape of the western genre has for years now been on life support with an occasional burst of fresh energy usually followed by a plunge back into the ICU. It has become a major challenge to get a western greenlit for production considering the risks. And those risks quadruple when you're an independent filmmaker with the ambition to get your personal pet project made. Such a filmmaker is James Cotten who has managed to successfully bring to fruition a western saga of revenge and redemption that reflects its universal theme with passion and perception. Directing an original screenplay he wrote in tandem with Amber Lindley, he has created an intimate portrait of a young woman trapped in a situation she has accepted as her way of life. When circumstances are altered forcing her to break free from the oppressive lifestyle she has been forced to live, we follow her on a journey of self discovery. Slowly, she begins to accept that kindness exists and that she can make choices she thought were not within her reach. Her trust is tested by unexpected betrayal but the persistence of those she encounters break down her self imposed barriers and show her a path to a better life.
There is a lot to admire in this character driven western opus not the least of which is the lush and grandeur look of the film provided by Samuel Calvin's gorgeous cinematography. Capturing all the majestic beauty of the Oklahoma countryside, Calvin provides us with awe inspiring visual vistas that rival anything you've seen in a big studio film. Cotten's direction wears the stamp of confidence you normally only find in a seasoned director with the experience to back it up. He seems to instinctually know when an unobtrusive lingering shot on a character's emotionally scarred face is all that is required or when a sweeping panoramic view of characters juxtaposed against the expansive background of the Oklahoma country breathes life into the moment. It's an impressive display of the power of framing and composition by a director to effectively convey the personality of the story being told.
I've only had minimum exposure to Stef Dawson through her work in "The Hunger Games trilogy" and her role in "The Cleverman" series but her work here as Julie Richards puts her high up on my radar of actors to keep an eye open for. She literally wins your heart through the emotional expressions of silent suffering as she tries to come to terms with the destiny life has afforded her. She brings an inner strength to Julie and perfectly captures the transition from frightened victim to inner peace to a woman with firm control over her own chosen destiny.
There are many commendable performances throughout the film. Matt Dallas as the charming but caustic hired killer Frank Dean who might just prove to be Julie's one chance of escaping her bondage from Kyle Allison has just the right countenance and sense of danger to cut a clear portrait of a shady gentleman of manners. Robert Craighead delivers a venomously vicious performance as Kyle Allison that is cruel, creepy and skin crawlingly effective in its villainy. David Thomas Jenkins perfectly captures the unassuming charm of the shy but resourceful Vince Wagner, a mustanger who plays an important role in the liberation of Julie's spirit of independence. Kiowa Gordon as Vince's cohort Chato, an Indian, who as a child of eight years of age survived the massacre of his entire village, is stoic yet instinctively approachable as he finds just the right tone for his character. These performances all matter in giving this film the authenticity needed for it to resonate with the emotional impact intended.
When director/writer James Cotten contacted me and asked if I would view his film I didn't know quite what to expect. I didn't expect to see a film that if I had seen it at my local cinema, I wouldn't change one word of this review. It truly is that impressive.
This isn't the typical western nor does it succumb to the traditional cookie cutter outcomes we normally expect. To its credit, it veers from tradition and makes its own path. It's a path that I am pleased to have had the opportunity to travel along.
Painted Woman is available at Best Buy, Target, itunes, Amazon Prime
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