SERIES REVIEW – The Ozarks, Stranger Things and Josh Brolin’s other great classic film (in which he starred), No Country for an Old Man may come to mind when watching the new Amazon Prime neo-western series, which launched on April 15.
Set in the sprawling plains and high mountains of Wyoming, it’s a situation reminiscent of classic westerns between two neighbouring ranching families: the Abbotts, led by the determined but righteous patriarch Royal (Josh Brolin), and the Tillersons, an outsider clan led by Wayne (Will Patton), a sickly land-grabber who has his eye on the Abbotts’ western pastures.
But things become more complicated when a mysterious drifter and hippie-looking girl, Autumn (Imogen Poots), turns up on the Abbotts’ doorstep and asks to camp on their land (and pays for the privilege), her motives unknown. On the same day, a tractor-sized hole opens up in the ground in the Abbott’s western pasture: a bottomless, black, smoke-covered pit that seems to lead nowhere. Where could it have come from? What does the hole mean? And what do any of our characters, including Royal himself, already know about it?
“Have you ever heard of a Greek god called Cronus?”
In recent years, the neo-western has seen something of a resurgence with Taylor Sheridan (Hell or Water, Wind River), the Coens’ No Country for an Old Man, and the 11 Academy Award-nominated in The Power of a Dog. These films, set in the “Wild West” but often in modern times, completely redefine the western genre, adding new stylistic touches and story elements that are unusual for the genre.
This is what Outer Range, the latest in Prime Video’s own exclusive series, is trying to do, with a supernatural aspect that has been almost absent from Westerns. As for the story, it is in many ways reminiscent of the frontier family crime drama Ozark or the other hugely popular western series Yellowstone, which is also about a charismatic family doing everything they can to preserve their ranch.
And at the centre of it all is Brolin: his Royal Abbott, like Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone, is a highly charismatic, stoic, old-fashioned cowboy who hides his true feelings (and some interesting details from his past) deep behind a tough, macho mask.
But the hole in his land, a perplexing mystery that could serve as both saviour and destiny for his family and legacy, brings hidden aspects of his personality to the surface. Like the protagonist of No Country for Old Men, Llewellyn Moss, he is a man on the edge, desperately trying to maintain his balance and understand his place in the peculiar events affecting his family.
The other characters have their crosses to bear – some of them literally. For example, Royal’s wife, the deeply religious Cecilia (Lili Taylor), is the “glue” that holds the family together, her faith keeping them calm in a crisis – though she doesn’t always succeed.
Older brother Perry (Tom Pelphrey of Ozark fame is a wayward, temperamental single father struggling to care for his young daughter Amy (Olive Abercrombie) after the mysterious disappearance of his wife; younger Rhett (Lewis Pullman) is a rodeo hopeful whose bright future is threatened after he gets into a deadly scuffle with one of the Tillerson boys in the middle of the first episode. From the start, the central conflict is how the Abbotts can keep their fragile ecosystem intact in the face of threats from man, nature and the supernatural.
Well started in this surreal neo-western
These days, when it’s hard to offer anything new in the flood of streaming specials, the Outer Range’s neo-western cleverly spices up its more sombre philosophical musings on time, family and the consuming nature of the West with a scratchy, witty, occasionally surreal and somewhat David Lynch-esque sci-fi story thread. We’ve watched the first two episodes, which could take the series in any direction, but initial impressions are strongly positive.