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Our coverage of the Edinburgh International Film Festival kicks off with a review of The Last Rites. Follow along with all our EIFF coverage all week long on our dedicated film festival dispatch right here.
On paper, The Last Rites of Ransom Pride sounds like a surefire winner; a western about a tough gun-toting heroine trying to take her deceased outlaw lover's body back home for burial while being pursued by men who had a grudge against him and the estranged family of the man who blame her for his downfall. Add to that a stellar cast including Lizzy Caplin, Kris Kristofferson and Peter Dinklage and what can go wrong? As it turns out; everything.
From the get go alarm bells are sounding. The opening credits are a barrage of in-your-face fast cut, heavy rock straight out of the school of poor Zack Snyder emulation. Not the western you were looking for. This spazmodic approach rears its head throughout the movie as the end of every scene is met with a fast-cut reverse recap of the events just seen. Presumably the director saw Vantage Point and liked what was done there oblivious that the use of this process there was justified and here it is just irritating padding. The rest of the movie outside this is painfully po-faced and so makes these transition scenes even more jarring. The acting by almost everyone is at best flat, at worst, terrible. Only Peter Dinklage really makes any impression in what amounts to a cameo role. In fact that pretty much describes every aspect of the movie. Last Rites has no real characters, they are simply cardboard figures who chop and change feelings and motivation to suit the whims of the childish screenplay and to get to the next poorly choreographed shootout.
Shooting on digital is a risky business and requires a deft hand and some great cinematography to stop the end product looking cheap. Ransom Pride has neither so continually has the look of a softcore Cinemax movie with none of the bonus nudity. When it's not so plainly lit that the sets look exactly like sets rather than locations, then it's so dimly lit that it's hard to make out what's going on. And speaking of seeing what's going on, I may be no history expert but I'm pretty sure semi-automatic pistols weren't around in 1911. It's this level of anachronistic sloppiness that only helps to increase the level of contempt you feel while watching the movie.
Managing to assemble a big name cast may be admirable, but without some kind of vision and talent behind them to craft the end product, then the end result is always going to be what we have here; a pretty much unwatchable mess. I can only imagine the actors took on the role because it was a decent quick paycheck for a piece of work that would never get a wide enough release to damage their credibility.
People have told me that some have said if you can't say anything nice at a festival don't say anything. However, people less fortunate than me are going to pay hard earned money to sit through a movie like Ransom Pride unawares. Surely it's my duty to warn them against the bad as much as it is to praise the good. Consider yourself warned.