By William Wolf

THE HI-LO COUNTRY  Send This Review to a Friend

Stephen Frears, who is British, has made his western, although it isn't set in the old west. The conventions of the western are there, such as the rancher up against the bad guys and rivalry over a woman, but this one begins in a New Mexico town during World War II and continues in the post-war years. The reticent, somewhat shy Pete, played by Billy Crudup and the overly exuberant Big Boy, played by Woody Harrelson, resume their friendship upon their return from the war and they join forces to raise cattle. They also raise a little hell.

Patricia Arquette plays the married but straying Mona, and although Pete is fixated on her, Big Boy is the one who beds her. Meanwhile, Penelope Cruz portrays the single woman fixated on Pete, who beds her without commitment. Screenwriter Walon Green has peppered the story with violent confrontations, and ever-skillful director Frears ("My Beautiful Laundrette," "The Grifters") loads the film with atmosphere to match the effective acting.

But how do you get around the cliches? They are thrown at us as if meant to pay homage to the western genre, but transplanting and updating such material raises the stakes and requires a more credible, less predictable story. A Gramercy Pictures release.


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