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Blu-Ray : Worth a Look
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Release Date: December 26th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 2022

Butcher's Crossing

Overview -

The untamed American West and man’s greed collide in Gabe Polsky’s adaptation of John William’s novel Butcher’s Crossing. Nicolas Cage delivers a fierce performance as a man driven to insanity during a buffalo hunt with Fred Hechinger as his untrained skinner trapped in his wake. A thematically rich work, the film frustratingly only scratches the surface of its potential. On Blu-ray the film looks and sounds nice but lacks any bonus features. Worth A Look

Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage (1995, Best Actor, Leaving Las Vegas) stars in a gritty story about buffalo hunters in the Old West. Will Andrews (Fred Hechinger) has left Harvard to find adventure. He teams up with Miller (Cage), a mysterious frontiersman offering an unprecedented number of buffalo pelts in a secluded valley. Their crew must survive an arduous journey where the harsh elements will test everyone's resolve, leaving their sanity on a knife's edge.

OVERALL:
Worth a Look
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Length:
105
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.00:1
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date:
December 26th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Stories and films about man versus nature or man versus his own nature are nothing new. They’re tales as old as time. Speaking of humanity, we seem to be unable to learn from the mistakes of our past, thus these stories remain relevant. Even a novel published sixty years ago holds a relevant stake to the world today. This is where we find John Williams’ (not that John Williams, John Edward Williams) second novel Butcher’s Crossing. A grand, epic-scale adventure, the story pulls elements of Melville's Moby Dick and casts them deep into the American frontier. With similar overtones of the madness of greed as John Huston's The Treasure of Sierra Madre, the story is a lush, vivid work ripe for cinematic adaptation. Gabe Polsky’s work certainly is an ambitious attempt, but with such a swift runtime, it struggles to balance meditative human exploration against the thriller/horror elements of madness. 

In short, Butcher’s Crossing would be worth a view alone for Nicolas Cage as a fully accessorized version of Frontier Nicolas Cage, but the rest of the cast often steals the show. Fred Hechinger is impressive as the naive greenhorn skinner Will, but it’s Jeremy Bobb as the foul lead skinner Schneider and Xander Berkeley delivering an unrecognizable performance as the one-handed bible-thumping wagon driver Hoge that get the most attention and meat to chew. 

Our story centers on Hechinger’s fresh-from-Boston Will out to experience the American West for himself. Taking up with Nicolas Cage's buffalo hunter Miller, the team is off to find a secluded valley further than any hunter would dare roam before winter which Miller claims is home to thousands of beasts ripe for skinning. Once the hunt begins, the skinning never stops, and the madness of greed takes hold of the men with deadly consequences. 

I first read John Williams’ Butcher’s Crossing the better side of 25 years ago. I was just getting into classic Western novels by the likes of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey when I spotted Butcher’s Crossing on the shelf at a used bookstore. I was traveling west on vacation so it proved to be a fitting read and I thought it was ripe material for a movie.

While Polsky’s film certainly keeps to the basics of the story and touches on the main themes, it’s also too quick to move along without really digging in and grabbing the material by the throat. The character Will is our audience surrogate, acting essentially as Ishmael following Miller's Ahab into the abyss. Key events like getting lost, running out of water, etc. all slip by without any heart or gravity to the story or the characters. Likewise, when winter sets in, the survival elements slip past too fast to resonate and the tragedy of their eventual return to civilization is similarly undercut.

For me, the film needed more time to breathe and invest in these events. We’re barely introduced or given time to ask why we like or care about them before it’s off to the races. At an hour forty-five, we needed another thirty minutes minimum for these heady and interesting themes and plot elements to develop. Instead, it just feels pushed along with the audience’s waning attention herded with it. I really loved the book and was excited to see this one, but I can’t say much about it beyond “it’s okay, not great, could’ve been better.” Cage fans out for more “Crazy Cage” may enjoy it, but even then it’s pretty restrained crazy for Cage. 



Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Butcher’s Crossing
arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Sony in a single-disc release. Pressed on a BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard case with an identical slipcover. The disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.

Video Review

Ranking:

In the plus column for this film, it sure is beautiful to look at! Shot on location in Montana, it’s a scenically beautiful piece of filmmaking with wide-open vistas, rolling hills, and majestic mountains. They may not quite double for the yellow aspens of Colorado, but it’s a beautiful piece all the same. Details in costuming, set design, and makeup, are all on display and effective. Colors are bold and vivid with plenty of attention for primaries and healthy skin tones. My only issue with this one is it can look a little crunchy/crispy as if some slight edge enhancement was employed, but it’s a pretty minimal complaint.

Audio Review

Ranking:

Likewise, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix is effective at setting a sense of scale to the land. Rolling winds through grasses, trees, the various sounds of nature fill up the surround channels nicely. The rumbling hoof falls of running buffalo knock in some extra low end for the subs to rumble with. Dialog is clean and clear without issue. All around a fine audio mix for this film.

Special Features

Ranking:

Not a one. 

John Williams’ Butcher's Crossing is ripe material for a great movie. And even after this middling version, it still would make a great movie. All of the elements are there for a great story about man’s relationship with nature and the folly of greed, but it just doesn’t quite come together for this one. Key beats are present but there’s a void of emotional connection to tie it together for the audience. The cast and scenery is what save this film from absolute mediocrity, but that might not be enough of a selling point for most. A solid transfer and audio buttress this Blu-ray release against the lack of any bonus features. Worth A Look