Toronto Review: Butchers Crossing Directed By Gabe Polsky Starring Nicolas Cage

Will Andrews (Fred Hechinger) goes from Harvard Drop to Cowboy in Gabe Polsky’s new film Butcher’s Crossing, with script written by Polsky, and Liam Satre-Meloy, based on a book by John Williams

Will Andrews is looking for adventure on the open frontier. School just isn’t cutting it and thought is now looking for people to travel with.  He meets Miller (Nicolas Cage), a man in the Buffalo killing business to trade their hide and meat. Andrews asks to join Miller on his next journey which is to hunt a mysterious herd of Buffalo, and the young man can join them for a flat fee of $500. He promises this will be the biggest hall of his life. Will seems to lack social, and life skills as he enters a cowboy ho-down and doesn’t know how to dance, or talk to women. At least he’s aware and not trying to be someone he isn’t. That’s why he has to join Miller on this ride. He has no idea what he’s about to get into.

Out on the range, Will shoots a rifle for the first time, goes hunting, learns to skin a Buffalo, and what their body parts are used for.  His determination leads to him being embraced by Miller and his rag tag group of buffalo hunters. The young man learns about each member, their quirks, and digest the knowledge they impart on him. Eventually, Miller’s stubbornness causes the group to get caught in the middle of a snowstorm that traps them for longer than expected. Everyday frost sets in and supplies run low, the group they lose touch with reality. Will then begins to ask himself: was this worth it?

Butcher’s Crossing is a 19th-century coming of age story that brings up questions regarding masculinity and what it takes to be a ‘real man.’ Poor Will is so directionless, much like this film.  As a character, isn’t his hero’s journey isn’t engrossing. He’s the subject of this movie, and isn’t portrayed as an observer, but a background character in his own story. The men he’s surrounded by are also one-note–something that no one should say about Nicolas Cage, but here we are. The sweeping mountain landscapes are stunning because of David Gallego’s cinematography, but since most of the film take place at night, seeing the fruits of his labor is nearly impossible. In some scenes it’s hard to even make out faces, or movement. 

Butcher’s Crossing aims to create a conversation around toxic masculinity, and what that looks like through the eyes of a young novice, but its too busy towing the line to make a strict statement on what that means to its main character. 

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