When we think of a western we imagine the typical leading man, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, or Lee Marvin, playing someone who rides his horse into town, guns blazing, and saving the town from the bad guys. These are the standard tropes we never tire of, but sometimes it's nice to see the underdog make his mark in the wild west. A movie taking a chance is The Ballad of Lefty Brown, which stars longtime actor Bill Pullman in a role he was born to play, which is a nice feather in the cap of an already successful career. It turns out that our hero is just the sidekick, but when his long time partner Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda) is murdered, it shifts him into the spotlight, seeking revenge on the men responsible for his friends death. The Ballad of Lefty Brown is not lighting a fire under the western genre, but it makes for a sweet song for cinephiles to hum to.       

The Ballad of Lefty Brown

Lefty is a bit of a simpleton, with a flipped up hat like Yosemite Sam, and mutton chops that fit the look of a Montana local. His friendship with Johnson is built with trust, where Johnson is the role of tough lawmen, he handles his criminals as the judge and jury, while Lefty lacks confidence to take action at all. Although Johnson's wife Laura (Kathy Baker) never trusts Lefty, Johnson hopes to leave his ranch to his friend. Those prospects are quickly dashed. While in pursuit of men who stole three of their horses, Johnson is shot from afar, throwing Lefty into a spot he's never been in before. A task that nobody believes he can succeed at, tracking these men and bringing them to justice.

Now, I wasn't blown away by The Ballad of Lefty Brown, but what I was fond of was writer/director Jared Moshe's decision to trust Bill Pullman to do the heavy lifting. Here is an actor that has shown versatility, from his comedic work as Lone Starr in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs, his mysterious darkness in David Lynch's Lost Highway, and his leadership as the president in Independence Day. He brings all of those qualities to the table here. Finally, he's playing a role where his character has a long ranging arc, even if it's the only thing the movie has going for it.

Along the way, Lefty meets a young gunslinger named Jeremiah (Diego Josef) who helps him on the hunt and puts Lefty in a position that feels oddly familiar, only this time his role is reversed. Outside of those two, the supporting players play a predictable bunch of characters who never trust Lefty, eluding the narrative to an easy conclusion that Johnson's death was not just a case of wild villains, but Jim Caviezel's crooked politician Jimmy Bierce pulling the strings behind the scenes. It ultimately makes for an ill paced story, some brief shootouts, and dull dialogue, while featuring standard images of dusty Montana hills. If Bill Pullman wasn't carrying all the weight, this would be a broken horse.

In the end, The Ballad of Lefty Brown might be a tune that we've heard before, but it has the right idea of celebrating an actor that isn't given enough of his dues. I even found a character like Lefty to be fascinating for the western classics. He is the antithesis of everything we expect out of a hero. He's shy, responsible, but always there to take care of others. And by the films end, a bit of that western gunslinger has worn off on him. The Ballad of Lefty Brown will ride again!


Written by: Leo Brady