Short Film Review “Fear The Unknown Men”



First, the Recap:

The wild, wild West. Another classic time period in American history, filled with tales both real and tall, legendary lawmen and notorious outlaws. With the latter often the center of both fear and strange envy by most folk, it was left up to the upstanding, fearless sheriffs of the realm to hold back the wave of crime and murder these men and women brought to their towns. However, what happens when the one meant to protect has had courage stolen away? In an unnamed town, Sheriff Elijah Conway (Nigel Barber) faces such a daunting dilemma, even as he witnesses the increasingly raucous behavior of the group sitting in the corner of the saloon he’s patronizing.

A wanted gang made up of their leader Buck Ford (Max Cavenham), brother/sister duo Douglas and Susie “Gums” Lewis (Garth Twa and Karen Brace), and youngster Roger ‘Blondie’ Wilson (Perry Brookes, Jr.), the trouble being created both in the saloon and with one of the establishment’s girls warrants needed action. Haunted by the ghosts of his past, Conway refuses to engage in anything to stop them, even despite the pressure being applied by a mysterious stranger (Michael Kennedy) and the saloon owner Madame Rouge (Pippa Winslow), who is also his lover. As events escalate, and inaction is no longer an option, Conway faces his demons and an unanticipated twist.

Next, my Mind:

With this second effort I’ve had the chance to screen, and now review, from British director Luke Shelley, he remains with American historical eras and aims for a tone and presentation that brings to mind the golden days of Hollywood film, this time via the Western genre. Now, for this reviewer, this is a medium of storytelling much more prone to cliché, invoking the unwelcome “been there, done that” mentality via typical storylines, villains, etc. Fortunately here, despite the overall concept in itself not being anything wholly original, it is buoyed on the strength of a well-chosen cast paired with timeless themes of good vs. evil and overcoming ones past to find redemption, all while providing a Western hero who’s not perfect, but rather given that worthy new sense of purpose to seek justice against wrongdoing, even though it has cost him something to arrive at that point. It keeps this story grounded, and the additional benefits of a quality music score and solid cinematography also aid in allowing what could have been a total exercise in banality turn into entertainment instead.

Barber again shines and puts his veteran skills to good use as Conway, a man crippled by the inner demons he wrestles with daily, and who therefore seems utterly unwilling to stand his ground against anything remotely resembling his true responsibilities as sheriff. Even once multiple incidents around him occur and others are being hurt, it still causes him hesitation until the forced action of two people finally propel him forward. Barber’s deep voice and well-delivered portrayal very much add weight to Conway’s believability. Newcomer Kennedy also lends a wonderful performance to the mix as The Stranger, a bounty hunter whose previous run-in with one of the gang has led him down the cold path to needed retribution. His fixed gaze and intensely single-minded drive fuel him even beyond a dark secret he keeps, only exposed in the finale, while also becoming one of the voices trying to urge the stubbornly hesitant sheriff back into his duties. The steely nerves and relentless manner of The Stranger is very well encapsulated in Kennedy’s performance here.

With this big of an ensemble cast, supporting turns are numerous and well-played, from Cavenham’s ruthless and remorseless leader Buck Ford, Twa and Brace’s brother/sister gang duo the Lewis’, one of whom may have second thoughts about what they are caught up in, and Brookes, Jr.’s ‘Blondie’ Wilson, who’s all too immersed in the off-kilter “teachings” of Ford, to Winslow’s fervently passionate saloon owner Madame Rouge, a woman of means and nerve who only desires what’s best for her girls and for the town via her sheriff lover getting back in the literal and proverbial saddle to clean out the gang and its influence once and for all. Additional appearances are also here from Maureen Rejali, Cristina Dohmen, Matt Jones, Paul Shelley, CJ Read, and Mitchell Armstrong. In total, “Fear The Unknown Men” is a noteworthy genre effort that succeeds in taking the best of what we have seen before and packaging it into a neatly compact 20-minute viewing experience that therefore allows us to fully enjoy all the elements we love about a classic Western without it becoming overly tedious to endure because of overt lags in between moments of genuine engagement.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!

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