Combustible Celluloid
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With: Stef Dawson, Matt Dallas, Kiowa Gordon, David Thomas Jenkins, Robert Craighead, Monica Peña
Written by: James Cotten, Amber Lindley, based on a novel by Dusty Richards
Directed by: James Cotten
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 108
Date: 02/09/2018

Painted Woman (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Dark Horse

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director and co-writer James Cotten attempts a different take on the Western genre with Painted Woman. Adapted from a novel by Dusty Richards, the movie is slow, perhaps more tentative than contemplative, and maybe even mournful. It's set in 1899, and as one character mentions, the Wild West is on its way out. It focuses on Julie (the ethereal, angelic Stef Dawson, from the Hunger Games films), who lost her parents at an early age, became a prostitute, and then a "kept woman" for the nasty businessman Kyle Allison (Robert Craighead, who seems to recognize and exploit his resemblance to Jack Nicholson). One day he tires of her and brings in a new, younger (shockingly young) model, kicking Julie to the curb. Worse, he sends his hired gunman, the smooth-talking Frank Dean (Matt Dallas) after her, but in the dark woods, she gives Frank the slip. She winds up hiding out with mustang-breaker Vince Wagner (David Thomas Jenkins) and his faithful Indian friend Chato (Kiowa Gordon), and finds a new lease on life. When she asks to ride a newly-broken horse, it's likely the first decision she has ever made for herself. Of course, Dean is still on her trail, but while we wait for the showdown, director Cotten makes lovely use of natural light and a slowly rolling focus, taking in the details of this world. The second half is open and sunny, with horses and pretty dresses and smiling friends, while the first half is mostly dark, lit by lonely lamps glinting off of whisky glasses. I wish I could say the story was a little more surprising, or that the exploratory pacing found some nuance in it, but otherwise, this is an admirable effort, and an often lovely film.

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