The Ballad of Lefty Brown review: Bill Pullman leads the cast of this film, one about loyalty, friendship, and the relentless pursuit of justice.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown review by Awais Irfan.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown review
The Ballad of Lefty Brown review

Following his 2012 directorial debut, the acclaimed indie Western Dead Man’s Burden, writer/director Jared Moshe is back with his sophomore feature, the A24 Western The Ballad of Lefty Brown.

Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) has always remained in the shadows, living contently as a sidekick for 40 years to his partner Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda). However, when Johnson is brutally murdered, Brown is forced out of his usual sidekick protection to take the front-seat for the first time in decades and avenge his partner’s death, furiously determined to catch Johnson’s killers.

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A24 tend to be a trustworthy source for good character pieces and The Ballad of Lefty Brown is another fine addition to their already-impressive catalogue of work. Our eponymous cowboy is the beating heart of this film – he’s the unwavering silver lining of decency in this defiled world – and Pullman gives a career-defining performance here in the role. He imbues Lefty with an almost childlike naivety and innocence – he’s trying his best – and brings so much warmth and heart to create a character that can’t help but grow on you through his infectious charm. But it’s matched with enough grit and determination for the moments of tension and severity; Pullman gets the balance just right, playing it tough on the outside but softer deep down and he manages to pull it off with such effortless skill.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown review
The Ballad of Lefty Brown review

He’s matched by a terrific supporting cast too, with the likes of Peter Fonda impressing in his limited screen-time; Tom Flanagan (above) is a scene-stealer as the bitter, nihilistic town sheriff too and the young Diego Josef is quite the revelation as the young, cocksure gunslinger Jeremiah – who accompanies Lefty on his journey. The supporting characters all feel thin, however. They’re just kind of there, filling out the story. The performances are good but the characters themselves, all aside from Brown, feel one-dimensional. Not only does this film boast a plethora of great work from its cast, though, but its crew too: the production and costume design work, from Eve McCarney and Jonny Pray, respectively, is impeccable in creating a realistic, atmospheric 1889 Western world which is beautifully embellished by David McFarland’s gorgeous, sweeping cinematography – shooting on crisp 35mm – to create a film that looks textured and stylish, boasting stunning shots and landscapes aplenty.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown review
The Ballad of Lefty Brown review

The Ballad of Lefty Brown isn’t without its flaws, however, and the film can suffer when focus is drawn from Brown to the thinner supporting characters. The film is also quite the slow-burner; whilst this is usually a technique that works in favour of these types of whodunnit/shoot-em-up westerns, it feels more of a hindrance to the proceedings here than not and the film could have easily felt a lot tighter and sharper a story with about 15-odd minutes trimmed off from its run time. Nonetheless, this is a pretty good film – another solid addition to the A24 filmography. It’s a fascinating Western with some gorgeous visuals and slick action, but it’s endearing and charismatic heart in the titular Lefty Brown – the glue that holds this film together – with his infectious naivety and warmth is the sole reason we’re here. And the sole reason this film works as well as it does.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown review by Awais Irfan, February 2018.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown is awaiting a UK release. The film was reviewed at the 2018 Glasgow Film Festival.

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The Ballad of Lefty Brown