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Review: The Warrant – “A reminder that America still has these vast open spaces”

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The Warrant starts in 1864 with a sweep through a Missouri wood. The second battle of Newtonia it claims. I’m uncomfortably reminded my Civil War history is mainly limited to Marvel and superheroes. In 2020 that’s not okay.

I’m working on that, personally — so I’m immediately intrigued.

My first impression is the budget limitations are already obvious and there is no real sense of scale. The camera is in close, meaning you feel every shot, and the scene is widely used to introduce us properly to Neal McDonough as John Breaker. As the film rattles on — and it does rattle on at just 85 minutes long — the film gets bolder.

Sheriff John Breaker (McDonough) and his son, Cal (Steven R. McQueen), reunite after the Civil War to deliver an arrest warrant to John’s former Union Army buddy, “The Saint” (Casper Van Dien – Starship Troopers, Tarzan). Now the fiercest gang leader west of the Mississippi, The Saint frequently raids vulnerable Southern supply lines, threatening to pull the entire country back to the brink of conflict. With the post-war peace at risk, John must leave the comfort of his home and wife to track down The Saint before it is too late.

A strange choice of title cards means we are in made for TV territory, which is odd to me, as the score is serving a purpose. Rather than pitching it as a TV show, there seems to be a missed opportunity to play things stately — as most of my favourite westerns would. This is rat-tat-tat Spaghetti Western-style Clint, not languid, thoughtful Unforgiven. Although having said that, when it settles, there’s plenty of horseback conversations.

This should be about the great outdoors. Open spaces. Yet the credits are set up to remind us that McDonough — who knows a fair bit about Marvel himself, of course — is going to square off against the star of one of the best films of the 90’s. Making me feel incredibly old, as I realise it was 1997 that I could rely on fantastic Paul Verhoeven content.

That said, choppy as it initially seems, the film turbocharges forward — full of conviction. Breaker gets a team, reminding me of the gathering of Denzel’s hugely underrated Magnificent Seven.

Then, still 1864, The Battle Of Byram’s Ford. Still Missouri, but this time Kansas City. And another one and another one. The film jumps from one gunfight to another, setting up Van Dien’s The Saint.

I recently did my Top 25 of All Time – The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and Hostiles nudged Dances With Wolves: Director’s Cut and Open Range just out of sight. A sign of the times.

It makes me realise that I inherited Westerns from my Dad and need to get involved more. Watching Rick Dalton in snippets of Bounty Law just won’t cut it anymore.

The Warrant reminded me why I loved those films, whilst also making me think my Dad would quite enjoy it. This is the guy that took his 8-year-old to Basingstoke cinema straight from school to see Dances With Wolves though.

Bold.

Those that show more than a passing interest will be sure to find something here. Those that know their 1860’s history, will almost certainly.

A quick check shows the costumes are authentic. There is a stark reminder that America still has these vast open spaces and that the idea of America is still being stitched together. Historically divided but, now more than ever, needing to be aligned and joined together.

It’s at a tipping point. As it was back in 1864.

The Warrant premiers this Father’s Day weekend on Saturday, June 20th.

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