Directed By: George Miller
Screenplay By: Cal Cullen, John Dixon
Based on the poem by A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Produced By: Geoff Burrowes
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Tom Burlinson, Sigrid Thornton, Tony Bonner, Jack Thompson
MPAA Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes
Review Date: July 9, 2010
The men from The Man From Snowy River sit in wicker chairs warming wallaby stew over an open fire. They reminisce about their day breaking wild horses, gazing longingly into an auburn sunset. In this part of the Australian outback, these men handle most of their qualms with words and only exchange blows under strikingly rare circumstances. One of these men states, “This is a hard country, and it makes for hard men”. The “hard men” of The Man From Snowy River shy away from violence and instead choose to ride horses incessantly, dig for gold, and tie ropes. Despite this lack of violence that is requisite to most westerns, the film remains a unique and viable addition to the dying genre on the sole basis that it tells an affable story the entire family can enjoy.
The film opens with a remarkably gorgeous shot juxtaposing the silhouette of galloping horses against a crisp dusk sky. The hastened thundering of hooves, startling the viewer and setting the stage for what is to come shatters the silence of the take. There are only a few action scenes in the film (you could count them on one hand that’s missing fingers), but these scenes are shot with conviction and wit (the aerial photography throughout the final act is breathtaking). I have come to expect gunslinging in westerns, but the innocuous action in this film was exciting in its own novel right.
Director George Miller deftly handles the tender narrative while allowing his talented cast to move freely among the vast landscapes they inhabit. Tom Burlinson plays Jim Craig, an 18-year-old boy who must make a name for himself after his father dies in a tragic accident at the onset of the film (no family film is complete without loss). His performance is convincing because he perfectly conveys the emotions that inevitably accompany the rites of passage in the west. Opposite Jim is Jessica Harrison, played by the attractive but weak Sigrid Thornton. Ostensibly, she is the love interest as well as the daughter of Jim’s employer. Clichéd, but the chemistry between Joe and Jessica is charming enough. The peerless Kirk Douglas, playing dual roles as the estranged Harrison Brothers, steals the show. His “Father” character is truly unpleasant and overbearing whereas his “Uncle” character adds all the comedic relief the film could ever need. He handles the characters with such dexterity that the wandering eye may mistake the two characters as different actors altogether. Other characters include Jim’s mentor (an unjustified “cowboy legend” that is utterly disposable) and bullying ranch hands that make Jim’s segue into ranch life strenuous.
The film is definitely corny (In one scene, the action freezes on a wild horse and the editor chooses to take a still frame and drive closer and closer to the horses eye until a fade to black. It is truly hilarious) and writers Cal Cullen and John Dixon could have smoothed out the script to make it less predictable and more peppy. In addition, I wish the love story between Jim and Jessica had a little more oomph (metaphorically speaking), as it tended to be just a little too cute. These minor drawbacks aside, the The Man From Snowy River is a decent film that the whole family can enjoy. The film ends on a positive and uplifting note, garnering smiles from children and adults alike.
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.