Maggie (played with subdued intensity by the always fine Cate Blanchett) is a "healer" (a non-licensed `physician') who lives with her two daughters and a hired hand (Aaron Eckhart) in an Indian territory troubled by the capturing of young women and girls by the Indians and loathsome white types for the purpose of selling them in the white slavery market below the border. Along comes an older man Sam (Tommy Lee Jones) who appears Indian but in fact is Maggie's absentee father. Maggie's life since her father's abandonment of her mother and her when she was very young has been difficult and she has little feeling except hate for the father she never knew. The initial encounter between the two is a fully realized replay of years of emotion that is transmitted to the audience primarily through the power of the eyes in the quality acting of Blanchette and Jones. When Maggie's older daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) is abducted by the white slavery gang, Maggie has no recourse but to rely on her `Indian' father to aid her in regaining her daughter. The remainder of the film is an extended chase that contrasts the spiritual aspect of the Indian beliefs with the Christian ethic of Maggie. The level of suspense runs consistently high but Howard allows this intensified emotional plane to be the playing field for the gradual acceptance by Maggie that her father is at heart a loner but capable of love. The beauty of the reconciliation is subtly drawn and never artificial.
The cast is uniformly excellent: for once the Indians are humanely portrayed, the children (especially Jenna Boyd as Maggie's younger daughter) are credible, and the `brujo' witchdoctor Indian is evil incarnate. The West has rarely been visualized so realistically. This is a fine film and transfers to DVD well. The additional disc is run of the mill snippets that diminish the power of the story - and viewing it is recommended only after the impact of this fine story has settled in.
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