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Top-rated miniseries! Academy Award(r) winner Robert Duvall (1983 Best Actor in a Leading Role, Tender Mercies ) and Academy Award(r) nominee Thomas Hayden Church (2004 Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Sideways ) star in this moving Western drama. Set in 1897, Print Ritter (Duvall) and his estranged nephew Tom Harte (Hayden Church) become the reluctant guardians of five abused and abandoned Chinese girls. Ritter and Harte's attempts to care for the girls are complicated by their responsibility to deliver a herd of horses while avoiding a group of bitter rivals, intent on kidnapping the girls for their own purposes. Classic Western action takes center stage in this dramatic miniseries! "ACADEMY AWARD(r)" is the registered trademark and service mark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "Emmy"(r) is the trademarked property of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
The lives of two stoic cowboys and five abused Chinese women become intertwined in Walter Hill's sprawling miniseries Broken Trail. Print Ritter (Academy Award winner Robert Duvall) and his nephew Tom Harte (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways) agree to deliver a herd of 500 horses from Oregon to Wyoming. Along the way, they rescue the young women--most of them still just girls--who're being transported to a brothel to have their virginity auctioned off. When the madam sees she is about to lose the girls, she screams at Tom, "What about my property?" He shouts back, "That's the price of being a capitalist, lady." Unable to overcome the language barrier, Print assigns numbers to the girls. Number 3, Sun Foy (Gwendoline Yeo, Desperate Housewives) is the most fearless and perceptive of them. Though the others don't want to be called Number 4--an unlucky numeral in their homeland--Ye Fung (Olivia Cheng), the most tragic of the group, doesn't care. Targeted for her beauty, she finds herself unable to overcome the trauma. The number suits her, in her mind. Along the way, Print and Tom rescue Nola Johns (Greta Scacchi), the proverbial hooker with the heat of gold, who was forced into prostitution after her husband died.
The cinematography is gorgeous as the camera sweeps over the lush landscape (the Canadian Rockies subbing in for wild West of the late 1800s) and Hill does a formidable job of pacing this 3-hour drama with just the right balance of dialogue and action. For Duvall, Broken Trail is the last piece to his Western trilogy, which started with the miniseries Lonesome Dove followed by the feature film Open Range. He is instantly likeable as a father figure and the viewer never doubts that his intention for the girls is honorable. As for Haden Church, he has never been as appealing as he is in this role. Gruff and flawed, he softens when he exchanges shy glances with Sun Foy. The trek is long and hard and the unlikely band of travelers will face much hardship. If not as satisfying as the rich, detailed Lonesome Dove, Broken Trail makes up for it with a wonderful storyline and some fine acting by all involved. As for the conclusion, it may surprise some viewers who are expecting a more traditional version of the happy ending. --Jae-Ha Kim
- "Broken Trail: The Making of a Legendary Western" featurette
- Bonus Previews
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Best gauge is my wife who loved it from the first minutes, and she is not too fond of cowboys, dust, guns and horses... She was, as I am, enthralled by the fine detailed sketching of the whole movie.
Acting is good, Duvall being equal to himself as always, and Thomas Haden Church displaying a sometimes touching but mostly hard and fierce performance. All actors up to the task and more. I strongly recommend, if you are not allergic to the genre.
This film hits all the right notes: great dialogue, good direction, good pacing. There's a good balance to it all throughout. And the ending is great. It gives us just enough to be satisfied without overplaying it. The only negative in the film for me was that there are quick flashes of partial female nudity in the beginning. So if you're a guy like me who's careful about what you see because you're striving to be chaste you might want to leave the room for that part. (Although, the nudity, while uncomfortable, is not gratuitous. It does help to establish the theme of historical injustice against Chinese women which the film portrays.) There are also a few light profanities scattered throughout. I think there were only one or two GD's though. Some violence, but nothing overly gory. Overall, a great film that I think even those who don't love westerns will enjoy.
There is some disagreement over which movies are part of the "Lonesome Dove" saga. But 3 of them star Robert Duvall. I've not seen the other two. But the thing that drew me to "Broken Trail" was its historical nature. I grew up in John Day, Oregon ... where the trail ride began. Even today, local ranchers herd their cattle through the town once yearly to move them to pasture lands south of town. And at one time, my stepdad owned a 10,170 acre ranch west of John Day (outside of Dayville on Hwy. 26). Most westerns leave me flat with their glitzy cowboys wearing fancy costumes - with their hair never falling out of place ... since I grew up around "real" cowboys.
Just wanted to fill in a couple of historical details that might make the film more understandable. There were many Chinese immigrants in the John Day area during the time depicted in the film. Many of them worked on the narrow-guage railroad and many more worked in the gold mines. Everyone has heard of the California gold rush in 1849. But few have heard of the Oregon gold rush in 1862 after gold was discovered in Canyon Creek (near Canyon City, 2 miles south of John Day). But back then, Canyon City was called Whiskey Gulch ... and grew in population to exceed the current population of Oregon's state capital, Salem - at least until the gold ran out. Even today, Canyon City has a yearly event called the "'62-Days Celebration" including a parade through the center of town (that I marched in a few times).
So, this explains why there were a lot of Chinese girls in the area ... like the girls depicted in the film. In John Day during the film's timeframe, there was a business located in the Kam Wah Chung building (now a historical museum, see photo below). And part of the "business" they transacted likely included the sale of girls ... though area historians might not mention it openly (grin).
I won't take any stars away for this ... but I found it interesting that Duvall mis-pronounced Oregon as O-REE-GONE and that his British horse buyer pronounced Oregon correctly (Oar-EEE-Gun).
The landscape of this film was Canadian ... but, at least early on, matched the landscape of the Wallowa range they likely drove the horses over. So, this was like a time-travel adventure to me ... depicting the area in which I grew up as it was "back in the day."
P.S. One final note. The film is aptly dated during the "Boer War" fought by Britain (1899 apx.). By then, the economy of eastern Oregon was on the wane ... making the sale of ranches (and Chinese girls, for that matter) an economic necessity. It was around that time that my stepdad's parents (1st generation immigrants from Scotland) bought their ranch. The gold was starting to dry up - and a lot of other businesses that depended on that gold income were failing. Even the trade of horses, popular during the prior year (Spanish-American War), was drying up ... making the Boer War trade with the British a godsend to those who had horses to sell. It was a good way for them to get rich quick since the British were paying much more money than the horses were actually worth.