Set in South Dakota near the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in 1899, nine years after the Massacre of Wounded Knee, the film “West of Thunder” is a strangely earnest revenge picture, a kindhearted Western with its fair share of killing.
A stranger named Henry Seed (Dan Davies, also the film’s co-writer) arrives in a small town and soon begins knocking off residents with what seems an almost mystical power. Seed turns the injustices suffered by the natives back onto the settlers, acting as a righteous defender of the people who have been shunted off to their reservation.
Directed by Jody Marriott Bar-Lev (also a co-writer) and Steve Russell (also co-cinematographer with John Stanier), the film feels not so much amateurish as homespun, made with a sincerity that smoothes over at least some of its rough edges.
Many of the performers have a distinctly unpolished way about them, almost as if they actually were turn-of-the-last-century townsfolk, which leads to some deeply eccentric line readings, but it also gives the entire film an unvarnished quality that remains curiously engaging.
“West of Thunder” wants to walk the line of being both an enjoyable tale of revenge and an exploration of the sense of empty victory it offers – a storytelling sleight of hand that has tripped-up far more experienced filmmakers.
“West of Thunder.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. At Laemmle’s Noho 7, North Hollywood.