Based on a John Williams novel of the same name, Butcher’s Crossing depicts the brutality and greed that almost decimated the buffalo population in the American west in the late 1800s.
The film begins as young Harvard man Will (Fred Hechinger) sets off to see the world beyond his privileged ivy-league life. Denied the chance to join a small hunting group almost immediately after arriving in Kansas, Will crosses paths with the slightly crazed buffalo hunter Miller (Nicolas Cage). Miller, persuaded by Will’s deep pockets and willingness to blindly fund his dangerous expedition, agrees to bring the naive young man with him on what he hopes is the biggest hunt the town’s ever seen.
Despite the intriguing plot and critically acclaimed source material, Butcher’s Crossing is a somewhat tiresome film that lacks the depth and direction needed to make an impact. The narrative gets a little lost at times and it falters in the patience needed to develop and draw the audience in.
There is also an incredibly irksome lack of attention to detail that undermines the world-building. Nicolas Cage’s perfect Hollywood teeth are a prime example of this – their glaring whiteness distracts from the efforts of the costume and set departments to make the film feel real.
The performances are decent from most of the cast, but some of the acting skews more towards theatre rather than cinema. It’s nice to see Hechinger in a more serious role after doing a great job in season one of The White Lotus and he really puts the work in here.
Nicolas Cage is, well, Nicolas Cage, but in a way that at times detracts from the film rather than adding to it. Following on from 2021’s Pig and 2022’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – both great performances from Cage in their own right – I expected more from the actor. That said, he captured the mania and recklessness that lead to the decimation of buffalo populations.
Butcher’s Crossing is not a bad film, not by any means. Its goal of highlighting the effect of colonialist greed on the Buffalo population, as well as the work Native American groups put in to reverse that, is admirable. But it feels a little dated and seems like more of a second draft than a final cut.
Butcher’s Crossing was shown at Glasgow Film Festival 2023 will be out in UK cinemas April 27st.