Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Movie Review: The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter

The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter ** / *****
Directed by: Jody Hill.
Written by: John Carcieri and Jody Hill and Danny McBride.
Starring: Josh Brolin (Buck Ferguson), Danny McBride (Don), Montana Jordan (Jaden), Carrie Coon (Mrs. Ferguson), Scoot McNairy (Greg).
Buck Ferguson is a great character name – and a great character – in Jody Hill’s The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunt. Buck is the star of a series of hunting videos, where he and his ever loyal camera Don (Danny McBride) go into the woods around the world to kill whitetail deer. The best sequence in the film may just be the first one – a montage of these videos, where we watch Buck kill a whole bunch of deer, some in very, bloody ways with his gun – smiling the whole time. This sequence, and Josh Brolin’s on target performance as Buck, immediately establishes Buck as the image of the ideal “red blooded American man” – one of those guys from the “real America”.
Immediately after than sequence though, we see the truth behind that over confidence Buck has on those videos. In real life, he is a divorced, middle aged man who is watching as his ex-wife (Carrie Coon) is about to marry his polar opposite, Greg (Scoot McNairy) and who struggles with connecting his son, Jaden (Montana Jordan) – who is 12, and who Buck doesn’t seem to know all that much about. He doesn’t know he has a girlfriend, he doesn’t know he plays the guitar – he doesn’t know a lot. He is taking Jaden along on this hunting trip, to be filmed by Don for the newest video of course, in an effort to try and bond with his son. But Buck makes the classic parenting mistake of assuming his kid will like what he likes – instead of trying to figure out what his kid wants.
All of this could have, and probably should have, made for a great movie. And yet, once Hill and company establish their premise, they don’t really have anywhere to go with it. Hill, whose last film was the wonderful Observe and Report (2009) – in which Seth Rogen play a mall security guard with no self-awareness – a kind of Rupert Pupkin with a fake badge has spent most of the last decade in TV – with shows like Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals (both unseen by me – sue me, I only recently got HBO). The film does have an intriguing premise and a wonderful performance by Brolin. But there’s little else here.
What follows though is a series of incidents in which we see through Buck’s bluster, we see him misunderstand his kid, we see his kid do one stupid thing after another, we see Buck abuse Don, and we see Don take it. Rather, rinse, repeat. You keep waiting for the film to find a second gear – but it never really arrives. The movie even tries to tack on a happy end of sorts – one where Buck seems to have some sort of breakthrough – and that just feels false. Most of the time, Hill’s characters don’t even realize that they have a lesson to learn, let alone actually learn one. It feels false here that they man we meet at the beginning of the film would become the person he is at the end. And in between, the film seems to be on autopilot. This is an example of a lot of talent wasted.

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