If the myths behind Nicolas Cage are to be believed, no movie with the actor in the lead is bad. Cage carries a fun and spritely attitude to any role he inhabits. As Miller, in Butcher’s Crossing, the bison trapper is as much a myth as the actor is.
In all his glory, complete with a perfectly rounded, razor-shaved skull, Cage is the epitome of cool as he leads an expedition to find a rumored bison herd in the early 1870s. Cage imbues Miller with a level of pride that borders on the edge of insanity as he leads young Will Andrews (Fred Hechinger) on an adventure on the then-wide-open frontiers of what would today be Montana. Will, a young lad of wealth and privilege, has dropped out of Harvard for an education and experience before settling down.
Butcher’s Crossing’s script by director Gabe Polsky and Liam Satre-Meloy draws inspiration from the novel by the same name, written by John Edward Williams. Polsky’s direction feels like you’re turning the pages of a well-worn book; the characters on the screen feel commonplace even as the story purports a conservation message in addition to the current generation’s desire for experiences.
As the party makes its way across the Great Plains, Hechinger (News of the World) is believable in his transition from someone of wealth in any era to someone who becomes rough and tumble. Despite the multiple attempts at an ending, there is a twist that might be perceived as preachy to some and appropriate to today’s audiences. Either way, Cage and Hechinger make for an unexpectedly exciting pair on screen, even if the story is run-of-the-mill.
The rest of the cast, Xander Berkley as the faithful one-armed veteran of frontier land, Charley Hoge disappears into his costume and makeup, offering a haunting performance, and Jeremy Bobb as the cocky hide-skinner, Fred Schneider are strong in their own right; however, Polsky focuses our attention on Will and Miller.
Polsky made the right decision to go after Cage for the Miller role; Cage elevates the spookier elements in the film while Will’s journey is effectively conveyed by Hechinger, as the party overstays their welcome and Mother Nature teaches them a thing or two about survival. Polsky relies on instincts to tell this frontier story. Butcher’s Crossing does not cover any new ground.
There’s a moment of irony: a Western that doesn’t cover new ground. It is about finding new opportunities to grow and develop while finding your manhood.
The adventure depicted on the screen is not without its merits, though. Cinematographer David Gallego captures the Montanan essence in all its beauty: its openness, dangers, and the unexpected, meshing well with Cage’s unbridled performance.
Butcher’s Crossing, which is now in theaters, would pair well as a double feature with Killers of the Flower Moon for similar settings. Though the story leaves you wanting more, the cast is full of strong enough performances to leave an impression.
As a Western, Butcher’s Crossing doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, yet it is worthy of a watch for Cage’s performance alone.