Butcher’s Crossing is a low-key Western that follows a Harvard University dropout as he seeks a new adventure hunting buffalo.
Will Andrews (Fred Hechinger) is probably the last person you would expect to find hunting buffalo. But sure enough, he’s dropped out of college and looking for a new adventure to take on. A trip west to Kansas in 1874 sees him run into Miller (Nicolas Cage) and join his team of buffalo hunters, for better or worse. He might nit know it at the time but he’s in way over his head. I mean, we’re talking about a Harvard kid! You don’t enroll in Harvard only to end up skinning buffalo for the rest of your life. Is he having some sort of break down? I really don’t know but sooner than later, you get this sense that he’s not cut out for this kind of life. Miller gives Will direct orders not to spook the buffalo and sure enough, it’s exactly what he does.
Say what you will about what the film has to say regarding toxic masculinity but I think there’s another message here about our own relationship to nature. I won’t lie by saying that I do eat meat. When you watch a film like this, you begin to ask questions. How many animals are no longer living because of the clothing that you put on? I can understand why people choose to become vegan or vegetarian and that’s their prerogative. Personally, I’ll only eat meat if it’s kosher and usually the meat that meets either CRC or Glatt standards–guys, I’m on TIFF brain here, I can’t think about kashrut rules right now!
This isn’t the sort of film where Nicolas Cage goes full Cage. He certainly has his moments where he comes close but that’s about it. Butcher’s Crossing is as much Fred Hechinger’s vehicle as it is Nicolas Cage’s. It’s well worth the decade’s worth of time that director Gabe Polsky puts into the film. When you see the scenic landscapes, you’ll know that it’s worth it!
Butcher’s Crossing is not the typical Western that one thinks of when it comes to the genre. The good and evil in this film are not the lawman and the outlaw and it’s not even close. There’s no outlaw trying to shoot up the town in this picture. Instead, there’s an ecological message at play, whether you like it or not. It’s a different approach to the genre and ought to get some sort of points for effort. It must be said that filmmaker Gabe Polsky prefers to describe the film “as more of an epic adventure drama with psychological and environmental horror elements vs. a Western.” In any event, this film will certainly get people talking and thinking about nature.
DIRECTOR: Gabe Polsky
SCREENWRITERS: Gabe Polsky and Liam Satre-Meloy
CAST: Nicolas Cage, Fred Hechinger, Rachel Keller, Xander Berkeley, with Jeremy Bobb and Paul Raci
Butcher’s Crossing holds its world premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival in the Gala program. Grade: 3.5/5
Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.