The prospect of Viggo Mortensen speaking fluent French (and some Arabic) in a foreign-language film based on a short story by Albert Camus reset as a classic western might not sound like a can't-miss proposition.
But "Far From Men," which takes place during the 1950s Algerian war for independence against the French, proves surprisingly affecting.
Arriving in theaters this weekend after playing the film festival circuit, the strikingly photographed production is set against the remote backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, where Mortensen plays a loner of a schoolteacher who must escort an Algerian prisoner accused of murder (Reda Kateb) to his trial in another town.
With all those wide-open spaces and the theme of frontier justice, the idea of giving Camus' "The Guest" a sort of "3:10 to Yuma" overlay actually doesn't turn out to be such a stretch.
But filmmaker David Oelhoffen's more significant achievement is in the casting of a never-better Mortensen, who possesses the sort of face that conveys volumes in virtual silence and the similarly expressive French Algerian actor Kateb.
Together they form a curious, poignant bond as outsiders from distinctly different cultures who learn to carve a mutual respect out of their shared alienation.
In the penetrating character study that is "Far From Men," existentialism has never felt so intimate.
"Far From Men"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.