Blueberry (2004)

Starring: Vincent Cassel, Juliette Lewis, Michael Madsen, Temuera Morrison, Ernest Borgnine
Matt Alexander, Gérard Brach
Director of Photography
Tetsuo Nagata
Jan Kounen

Plot:  A lawman raised by Indians must face crooked adventurers in search of gold and a hardened killer from his past who seeks to steal the local tribe's mystical powers.


Loosely adapted from two volumes of the classic European graphic album series by Moebius, Blueberry is not what you'd expect. Based on an original French work, with a French director and a popular French actor as the lead, this is an atypical Western. And why not? The Italians did some great "Spaghetti Westerns", too. This new confection is a blend of Sergio Leone Western-style action, modern romance, New Age mysticism, and Indian Jones adventure. Surprisingly enough, it all works.

More than just another Cowboys-and-Indians entry, though, the film is more in the vein of Eastwood's Unforgiven in its seeming deconstruction of the genre, what with its dark undertones, human suffering, and playing with genre conventions. Indeed, a quarter of the way through the narrative filled with the usual Western trappings (including violent gunfights, some brawling, horse chases, and even a scalping), audiences will realize that this isn't a traditional adventure as the movie takes off on a more esoteric track. 

Like all the best tales, this is one of self-discovery as well as one of revenge - it's just that this "inner journey" is more than a tad surreal. In fact, the scenes literally delve into a drug-enhanced trip complete with extensive computer animated hallucinations. Though these do get a little repetitive, they're quite well done and necessary. From here, the real heart of the film has become a Shamanic fantasy, where the temptations of a "mountain of gold" is quickly replaced with the real goal involving the power to trap souls. The climax isn't fought with guns but as a psychic battle within the spirit world. Action buffs may not be impressed by all the talk and non-standard fare, but true fans of the genre and of cinematic epics will be quickly taken in.

The film is tagged as one of the most expensive French productions, and it shows on screen, not least of which is in the gorgeous cinematography of the plains, the harsh desert, the one-street town, the brawling saloon, and even the haunted faces of its characters.

It's a stand-out work from director Kounen (who's last claim to fame was the violent, off-the-wall heist flick Doberman) who directs the whole thing in a serious, almost loving tone which lends itself well to the style and story. The dialogue might be forgettable, but the story is thoroughly engaging, with a definite European flavor to the narrative that deftly avoids veering into camp or self-consciousness. If there's anything short-changed, it's the characters who are definitely interesting but remain planted in their two-dimensional roots.

A Frenchman starring as a small-town sheriff isn't as far-fetched when he's a meant to be a Cajun from Louisiana, and Cassel has the definite look and mannerisms down pat for the role. He's helped by a solid international cast that look and act the parts to perfection, including some great character actors in minor roles such as Tcheky Karyo, Djimon Hounsou, Colm Meany and the incomparable Ernest Borgnine as a sheriff stuck to a weapons-laden wheelchair. The standout, however, is Madsen as the evil White-skin mystic : from his casual cruelty to his devotion to animals over people, he embodies his role. 

Blueberry will definitely confuse and bewilder some, but audiences ready to take a chance will be entranced by this visually splendid, entertaining and rich take on the classic American Western.

Entertainment: 8/10

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