Cast: Josh Brolin, Danny McBride And Montana Jordan Director: Jody Hill
There was a time back in the ’80s and the ’90s when the pavement stores of America were flooded with DVDs of hunting videos. These videos, which were almost always marked by their low production values, poor commentary and choppy editing, reminded of a time when consciousness towards animal rights had taken a backseat. None of these videos – nor the act of hunting itself – was illegal and it still is not for non-endangered species. Director Jody Hill’s new comedy film The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter is set in this world of game hunting and as a reviewer, it was a difficult task for me to keep the film separate from the ethics of its setting. However, in the review that follows, I have made a conscious effort to talk about the film, and the film alone. The law allows and regulates hunting in the United States, and there are scientific counter-arguments for every moral argument against the act of killing these beautiful animals. You can read both sets of arguments up on the internet and form your own opinion about the issue, but for now, we are going to focus on the film itself, which begins like one of those ’90s style low-quality hunting videos.
Buck Ferguson – played by Josh Brolin – is a famous whitetail deer hunter, whose hunting DVD series titled Buck Fever has made him an affluent man. Buck is always accompanied on his hunting trips by his cameraman Don, who has been with him ever since he started hunting. Buck himself is divorced, and his 12-year-old son Jaden lives with his mother. On his latest hunting trip, Buck decides to take his son along to the mountains to hunt game, in a bid to bond with him. Buck, Jaden and Don set out on the trail of a non-typical buck (a deer whose antlers grow not just up top, but on the sides as well), which they spot pretty early on in their hunt. While Buck is thrilled at the prospect of his son taking to his father’s passion, Jaden is not so enthused and soon, differences between father and son threaten to spoil all the fun.
The film is set in the beautiful forests and has a wonderful premise, and for the most part, it manages to ride high on sarcasm and keeps the laughs coming. The writing is really what does the trick – it is consistently high quality and it never misses an opportunity to take shots at the ethics of the entire act of hunting, without – for even a single time – losing focus on the fact that this is essentially a hunting film we are watching from the perspective of the hunters themselves. Now, that is a difficult task to pull off and I must say, the film does an amazing job of it. The critic – and there is one – is inward, self-referencing and situational. And it works like a charm. Watch out, for instance, for the scenes of chauvinistic male bonding that the trio attempt to work on, with hilariously disastrous results. The great American tradition of hunting is also made fun of in many subtle ways, without the humour being in-your-face even once, or with no intention of forcing opinions down your throat.
The performances are top-notch and do sufficient justice to the script. In the role of 12-year-old Jaden, Montana Jordan is pitch-perfect. Held back in school for his lack of focus in studies, shifting between girlfriends and exes, and confused by his parents’ divorce and his mother’s relationship with the new man in her life, Jordan’s Jaden is the face of early adolescence in all its glory and all its flaws. And despite all this, he has not forgotten to bring his guitar along on the trip, just so he can sing a song that he has written for his father.
Danny McBride is brilliant as the loyal but slightly dim-witted cameraman Don, who has been living in the shadow of Buck for more years than he could care to remember. McBride’s humour hits the spot every single time and he is an excellent comic actor. Unfortunately, I did feel that he was not given enough opportunities to showcase his real talent. No doubt, though, that he made the best of what he had. There is a strong emotional scene towards the end of the film, in which he pledges his loyalty to his good friend, despite everything nasty that has happened in between, and McBride pulls off the scene with great ease, all the while being tied to what is essentially a makeshift gurney.
Brolin shines in the role of the self-centred but well-meaning hunter Buck Ferguson. As he is growing old, he knows he has very little time to make a connection with his son, and through several scenes, one can also see that he is craving for the love of his estranged wife. It is easy to see why a fine actor like Brolin agreed to play the part – it is layered, highly conflicted and a supremely unlikeable role, thus making it a golden choice for any good actor worth his salt.
I do admit that the film demanded a bit of patience from me. But in the end, it worked wonderfully well. Once I was able to scratch through the surface and see what the makers had tried to do, I was hooked. Give it a watch – chances are, that you will be pleasantly surprised.
The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter is currently streaming on Netflix.