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(1998) (Woody Harrelson, Billy Crudup) (R)

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Drama: Two friends' attraction to the same woman, who's married to a man who works for their business rival, can only spell trouble for everyone involved in a small, post-WWII southwestern town.
Upon returning from duty in WWII, two friends, Pete Calder (BILLY CRUDUP) and Big Boy Matson (WOODY HARRELSON) set out to make a living as cattle ranchers in Hi-Lo, New Mexico. Pete, the more level-headed of the two, is enticed by an offer to work for cattle magnate, Jim Ed Love (SAM ELLIOT), but the confrontational Big Boy won't allow it. He doesn't like Jim Ed's way of doing business, or the fact that his younger brother, Little Boy (COLE HAUSER), has turned into a non-thinking "yes man" for the wealthy businessman.

The two friends, however, have an even bigger complication in their lives. Pete's secret love, Mona Birk (PATRICIA ARQUETTE), a woman married to one of Jim Ed's workers, is also secretly seeing Big Boy on the side. Despite the attention paid to him by the sweet Josepha O'Neil (PENELOPE CRUZ), Pete's driven crazy by the fact that his best friend is now not so secretly seeing the woman for whom he longs.

With tensions rising as the increasingly belligerent Big Boy repeatedly challenges Jim Ed and those who work for him, while still also seeing Mona behind her husband's back, Pete believes it's only a matter of time before something bad comes from this volatile arrangement.

Probably only if they're fans of someone in the cast.
For some sexuality, a scene of violence, and for brief language.
  • WOODY HARRELSON plays a confident and increasingly confrontational man who has repeated flings with a married woman and publicly derides a wealthy cattle baron and the men who work for him. Along the way, he drinks and gets into fights.
  • BILLY CRUDUP plays his younger friend and cattle partner who secretly longs for the same married woman with whom his friend is having an affair. He eventually has sex with her despite the affection paid to him by Josepha.
  • PATRICIA ARQUETTE plays the married woman who has an affair with Big Boy.
  • PENELOPE CRUZ plays a sweet, local woman who cares for Pete and is hurt when he doesn't return her love.
  • SAM ELLIOT plays the competitive cattle magnate who draws Big Boy's constant ire.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    Based on the novel by Max Evans and originally scheduled to be shot by legendary director Sam Peckinpah, "The Hi-Lo Country" is an interesting and often entertaining look at friendship set in the post WWII final days of the grand old West.

    While that location and, in fact, that certain American way of life, are usually represented in what everyone knows as "Westerns," some may be surprised to learn that this film was directed by a Brit, Stephen Frears ("The Grifters," "Dangerous Liaisons"). Even so, and much to Frears' credit, the film decidedly oozes Americana as it near lovingly pays homage to the demise of a long revered American cultural icon.

    That said, the film isn't a Western in the truest sense of the word. While there are gun-toting cowboys, bar fights, and expansive cattle ranches, this is something more of a hybrid between that genre and an old-fashioned buddy film. With the transition -- and gradual death -- of Clint Eastwood's old stomping ground into corporate America serving as its backdrop, the film parlays the rest of its energies into telling a story of two friends and the woman both love, who may eventually prove to be their undoing.

    Told in flashback and occasional voice-over by one of those friends (which begins with him stating that he's set out to kill someone and takes pleasure in the thought of their death), we come to realize as the story unfolds that this woman may have done much more than that.

    While that cinematic flashback device (or "flash-forward" if you consider that ninety-nine percent of the picture takes place in its past) certainly isn't new, it's still strong enough to peak and hold one's curiosity about what will occur as the story unfolds.

    As adapted by screenwriter Walon Green ("The Wild Bunch"), the story -- which isn't particularly earthshattering or overly complicated, but is dramatically solid -- works for several reasons. None of the players, whether they are protagonists or antagonists, are purely good or evil, and those shades of grey always make for more interesting characters and subsequent conflict between them.

    Just as much as the "bad guys" aren't the typical villains dressed in black, Big Boy -- obviously the guy we're supposed to root for -- isn't a clean-cut hero. With his confrontational and cocky, devil-may-care attitude, and his continuation of an adulterous affair, he's certainly not the typical "knight in shining armor."

    It's Woody Harrelson's take on that character, however, that really allows the story to take flight. Playing neither the simple movie cowboy caricature nor the more modern, sensitive farmhand, Harrelson (TV's "Cheers," "Natural Born Killers") creates a compelling character who's always completely believable. While he delivered a tremendous performance in "The People Versus Larry Flynt," this one has to rank right up there with that one.

    The rest of the performers are decent, but clearly fall into their more flamboyant costar's shadows. Billy Crudup ("Inventing the Abbotts," "Without Limits") is good as the "third wheel," but his nearly constipated look of concern and disappointment starts to wear thin long before the end credits role. Sam Elliot ("Tombstone," "Road House"), on the other hand, isn't given even that much to do with his elusive character.

    Regarding the ladies who appear in the film, they've also been given something of the short end of the character development stick. Patricia Arquette ("Nightwatch," "Lost Highway") is appropriately seductive in a white-trash type of way but doesn't bring much else to the role, while Penelope Cruz ("Live Flesh") can't do much in her American debut, what with her shallowly written, near one-note character.

    Despite the dramatic shortchanging regarding the supporting and minor characters, the film still works due to Harrelson's performance and Frears' apparent loving respect of the genre. Although the sweeping and powerful score is occasionally overused -- to instill more drama than is actually present at any given moment -- the picture simply has that old-fashioned Western feel that has enamored moviegoers since the dawn of cinema. While the film isn't great, it's dramatically solid and mostly engrossing throughout. We give "The Hi-Lo Country" a 6 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Violence is heavy with one person being shot and killed, while some fistfights and the threat of violence also occur (the results of which are sometimes bloody). Several sexual encounters occur (along with many implied ones regarding the affair), but aren't overly explicit (although some movement is noted).

    Profanity is heavy with at least 1 "f" word and a numerous assortment of other words and phrases. A great deal of drinking occurs, particularly concerning the main characters with them, and others, occasionally being or appearing to be drunk.

    Bad attitudes consist of Big Boy's ever present confrontational behavior, as well as his affair with a married woman (who thus has the same as well). While it's questionable just how many kids will want to see this picture, you may want to take a closer look at what's been listed should they or someone else in your home express an interest in seeing it.

  • People have drinks in a bar (including Pete and Big Boy).
  • We see an acquaintance of Pete's holding a bottle of liquor.
  • Pete and Mona drink whiskey.
  • Jim Ed and others have drinks in the bar.
  • Pete drinks from a flask (and does so again in his truck). Later, Josepha drinks from his flask.
  • Pete and Big Boy drink shots in the bar (while others also drink).
  • We see the friends drinking (shots and beer) in the bar again, while Jim Ed and his associates also drink shots.
  • Pete and Big Boy have shots in the bar.
  • Pete drinks from a flask, as does Big Boy.
  • Later, at a dance, Pete is drunk and even mentions that he thought that getting drunk might help (concerning his thoughts of Big Boy and Mona seeing each other). We later see that he drove home in this condition.
  • Little Boy has a beer and we see that Big Boy appears to have a few drinks.
  • People drink in a bar.
  • After getting into a fight, Big Boy drinks liquor from a bottle (as does Pete).
  • We see Mona, Big Boy and Pete drinking whiskey by a campfire. Later, we see that the bottle is empty, Big Boy is passed out drunk, and Pete and Mona go off into the woods and have sex (presumably somewhat influenced by the alcohol).
  • Pete's face is a bit bloody after being thrown from his horse.
  • A local man, upset with Jim Ed and his associate, walks up to them, suddenly unzips his pants and urinates on them (we only see the stream).
  • Pete has a small cut on his face after some barbed wire hits him there.
  • Big Boy has a tiny cut on his face.
  • A man's face is a little bloody after getting into a fight, and Big Boy has a bit of a bloody lip.
  • After being injured in a blizzard, Pete's face is somewhat bloody.
  • A man's nose is bloody after another person has beaten him.
  • A man's hand is bloody as is his chest after he's shot in both places, and he then spits up a little blood before he dies.
  • Mona has both for having an affair with Big Boy (who thus likewise has both), which eventually causes her husband to try to kill Big Boy.
  • Big Boy has a cocky and confrontational attitude toward nearly everyone. He also celebrates upon hearing of the death of a man he didn't like.
  • Jim Ed has both for running small cattle ranchers out of business.
  • Little Boy has both for not fixing up his mother's house where he still lives.
  • Pete has sex with Mona despite knowing that she's Big Boy's girlfriend (and married to even another man).
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • We see a man having the beginnings of a heart attack.
  • Big Boy, Pete, Mona, and her husband all show up at a dance where it's inevitable that something's going to happen between them.
  • A rodeo rider gets his hand stuck in a rope after a bucking bull has thrown him. Big Boy rushes out to try to free the rider and both are momentarily attacked by the bull.
  • Pete, Big Boy and another man get trapped in a blinding blizzard and try to make it back to their home after two of them are accidentally injured.
  • A man threatens to shoot another man and then does so, killing that man.
  • Shotgun: Cocked by the barkeep to make some guys, who are ready to fight, take their quarrel outside.
  • Knife: Briefly pulled out by a man ready to fight Jim Ed and his associates, but nothing happens.
  • Handguns: Carried by Big Boy and used by Mona's husband in an attempt to kill him.
  • Handgun: Used by one man to shoot and kill another man.
  • Rifle: Carried by Pete as he prepares to shoot someone (he doesn't).
  • Phrases: "Chickensh*t," "Piece of sh*t," "Horny" (sexual), "Bastard," "Take a piss," "Turds," "Pissed him off," "Pissing," "Scum sucking dogs," "Fart" and "Butthole."
  • A local man, upset with Jim Ed and his associate, walks up to them, suddenly unzips his pants and urinates on them (we only see the stream).
  • Although the film doesn't focus much on it, Pete does drive home drunk (throughout the night).
  • None.
  • A mild amount of dramatically suspenseful music occurs in a few scenes.
  • None.
  • At least 1 "f" word, 19 "s" words, 1 slang term for male genitals ("p*cker"), 16 hells, 12 damns, 10 S.O.B.'s, 5 asses, and 10 uses of "G-damn," 2 of "Jesus," and 1 use each of "Jesus Christ," "Lord," "God Almighty," and "God" as exclamations.
  • A man likens the feeling of putting his hand up a woman's dress to the feeling of a horse's mouth on your hand.
  • Josepha tells Pete, "I wanted you so much," and he replies, "I wanted you too." We then see him on top of her, but both are clothed and nothing else is seen.
  • Moments after seeing Josepha take off her shirt (nothing's seen), we see her and Pete having sex (under the covers with some limited movement, but only a glimpse of the top of her bare breasts).
  • During a hand of poker, Big Boy asks the others, "Ever hear of p*cker poker? That's where you drop your pants and you get a measuring stick..." but he's interrupted before finishing his thought.
  • Although we don't see anything, Big Boy and Mona carry on an affair where they meet in various locations to have sex.
  • Big Boy climbs on top of Mona (both are clothed) in front of Pete and Josepha. He kisses her and then undoes her garter (we see quite a bit of bare upper thigh).
  • With both a bit drunk, Pete and Mona go off into the woods, he tears open her dress, undoes his pants and gets on top of her between her legs. They then have sex with some movement, but no nudity.
  • Pete smokes a few times, as does Steve, while Big Boy and Mona smoke once.
  • Various people smoke in the backgrounds of shots.
  • Pete and another man chew chewing tobacco.
  • Pete briefly mentions that his parents were killed in a car wreck.
  • Mona has an affair with Big Boy, thus putting strain on her marriage.
  • Big Boy repeatedly has it out with his younger brother about working for Jim Ed and for not taking care of their mother's house.
  • A mother must deal with the death of her son.
  • Big Boy's confrontational attitude toward others, particularly his rivals.
  • The affair carried about by Big Boy and Mona.
  • The demise of the old West in the face of growing incorporation throughout the land.
  • Pete and Big Boy get into a fight outside a bar with two other men. Many punches and elbows are thrown and Pete's hit on the head with a bottle, but the two friends eventually overtake the other men and repeatedly punch them and smash one into a fence.
  • After suddenly urinating on Jim Ed and his associate, a man pulls out a knife, ready to use it, but nothing else happens.
  • There's talk that Big Boy's father and grandfather were shot and killed after shooting and killing other people.
  • A bull at a rodeo momentarily attacks several people (a rider and Big Boy who tries to help him).
  • Mona's husband pulls out a gun and fires it at Big Boy, but not before his hand is knocked aside. Big Boy then attacks and repeatedly punches him and smashes his head against a post.
  • Two men are accidentally injured in a blinding blizzard and one later dies of his injuries. One of them also uses a large wrench-like device to bludgeon a lame horse to death (we only hear the first blow).
  • Big Boy repeatedly slaps Little Boy on the head and then kicks him for not taking care of their mother's property. He then grabs him from a truck, slams him against it, and punches and kicks him again.
  • A man shoots another man several times, once through the hand and then in the chest, killing him.

  • Reviewed December 9, 1998 / Posted on December 30, 1998

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