Well made, just not my type of bird, baby.
What I first noticed about when I heard about this movie was the cast. It had an impressive cast with Jim Caviezel, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Shepard, Hal Holbrook, and Jack McBrayer. I expected veteran character actors like Shepard and Holbrook to have more impactful roles. It was simply a one off role where they didn't have any lasting effect on you. Not that they weren't good in the role. It just felt like it could have been bigger. Seeing McBrayer in a movie like this is quite a surprise as his role was also put to a minimum amount of screen time and relevance. Which makes sense overall since it wasn't about the side characters but mainly the duo of Ward Allen and Christmas Moultrie played by Jim Caviezel and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Their important and impactful relationship is more important than the side characters. Jim Caviezel isn't a house hold name but when he acts, he usually delivers. He has a "that" guy quality or someone you haven't really heard of before. Not that it's a bad thing or anything against his acting ability. It allowed Caviezel to really get into his role as the sensitive, rugged hunter. He delivers a good performance as a drunken lout who quotes Shakespeare. It has been done before but I still found it to be refreshing. Ward goes from one mood to another, rarely staying in one place. Much like himself he is lost while at the same time found. He exudes great charm and influence as the guy that everyone knows or knows of. Caviezels performance is only helped by the actor he plays off of. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the freed slave and best friend to Caviezel. He's in the same mold as Caviezel where they are both a role away from super stardom. He's good too but a lot of the attention goes to Caviezel. They have good chemistry with each other. You can really see the longstanding relationship between them that has brewed for years.
The concept of the old friend telling a story of a local legend to another is an all too familiar set up, but I found it enjoyable. Some of the conventions were formulaic as if they've been done before, but it doesn't hold back the movie as a whole. The story felt a bit rushed and hurried. There wasn't really any semblance of time. It just went on and on. One scene happens and then days, weeks, months have passed by with no recollection of how much time went on. It felt rather confusing as there isn't a great flow to the story. It feels slowed down in parts as the editing makes it clunky in some parts and rather boring. You can hardly tell that all this time has passed by. Some of the character motivations were also confusing. Ward Allen has a charm that can take him out of anything and everything when he gets into trouble with the courts making him inherently bullet proof. But when it doesn't work one time he gets surprised and shocked that this was allowed to happen.
The burdening love story was a bit convoluted also. The rich debutante whose rebelliousness in suitors angers her father and the unkempt, mangy rogue who is more content living within his means forgoing a rich estate has been done to death. It's hard to be swept up by it as it has caused me to have fatigue. The courtship was also exceedingly rushed. There wasn't really a firm standing for their relationship. It's as if Lucy Stubbs played by Jaimie Alexander didn't realize that it would be a struggle to live with him. She's set up with all these stuffy guys picked by her father, than sees an eloquent beast and becomes instantly attracted to him. It was more like going against her father's wishes more than anything rather than finding the perfect guy. She gets flustered and mad when he acts out, gets drunk etc. but then falls in love with him again as soon as he quotes Shakespeare. Like it never happened, it felt really forced. There's not a great deal of continuity with her character when she says to Ward I am not a patient woman or saying anything can be tamed with some sort of agreement only to be broken moments later. And it seems like months or years that Ward has been acting like a drunken lout getting into trouble with Lucy just going along for the ride. The score was pretty distracting and was used way too much. It made important scenes not that important and more like background noise instead of complimentary. You could almost tell when you are going to hear the music play up when a scene plays. It really takes you out of the movie for a little bit. The cinematography was great. Seeing the camera sweep all over the Georgia landscape was gorgeous.
I did like the themes of needing, wanting and realizing to reach ones full potential, not squandering it, how a changing climate, culture, and society can make certain types of people and professions obsolete through no fault of their own, and the importance of handing down stories that made people legends so they will never be forgotten. It's interesting to see a person act a certain way but have a background that is unlike their current situation. I always like seeing that juxtaposition in movies. Ward is fighting both sides of his life with his brains colliding with his brawn at all times. There never was a clear mixture of both and it would have helped him if it had. It's sad to see these men who are in a niche profession with skills that don't fit in another time. They excel in one age but are useless in the next. The rugged hunter is going the way of the dodo as they are easier ways to get these things where they excel in getting. It's a little depressing to see Ward and Christmas struggling to find a place for themselves in an ever-changing climate. This is all the more important to have their stories and legends told for future generations. No one is truly forgotten if they remember your story.
I always liked seeing different skills in movies that were used in the past and not as well-known. It has always interested me. I know that all professions have a certain level of difficulty that no one really knows of. With duck hunting I never thought of the different flights they take, uses for feathers, certain degrees of cunning they exude etc. Ward is an honorable man as he takes duck hunting seriously, rather not doing it for sport and giving the animals a certain degree of dignity. Always interesting to see that perspective and what goes with it. Savannah is run of the mill and ordinary but the performance by Jim Caviezel as well as the chemistry with Chiwetel Ejiofor helps it to not squander in mediocrity. It's not going to reinvent the wheel, but it has an engaging enough story to hold you in. It's standard as far as movies go but it's not trying to be anything that it's not. Three mallards out of five.