Woman Walks Ahead isn’t a great movie, but it dramatizes an interesting slice of history, especially given today’s politics. It also isn’t your typical Western, though it certainly retains a lot of the machismo overtones even with Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game) as the main focus and star of the film. Working closely with Michael Greyeyes (Fear the Walking Dead), the two form the main spine of the story and hold it together well.
But, honestly, the most nuanced and interesting characters were really along the sidelines. Bill Camp (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) really steal this movie out from under the leads. Camp’s General is inscrutable and weirdly fascinating. And Rockwell seems to have found a niche for himself in Hollywood as a semi-redeemable asshole. He’s good at it, but I’m really hoping he isn’t going to get stuck in that persona. Also worth noting were Ciarán Hinds (Red Sparrow) and Rulan Tangen as a mixed-race couple a la Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln.
Steven Knight’s (November Criminals, Peaky Blinders) script is intriguing and full of nice subtleties and historical bits that aren’t afraid of the realities. Despite that, what I realized was that I found myself reacting emotionally more to the events rather than to the characters themselves. My reactions were logical rather than emotional because I wasn’t identifying with the main characters. To me, this means director Susanna White (Parade’s End, Nanny McPhee Returns) somehow bungled the execution. Chastain and Greyeyes have an intense and intensely quiet relationship. It isn’t that there isn’t tension between them, but Chastain, in particular, is so closed off that we never really get inside her head. Greyeyes has a few more moments, but again is often walled off.
As I said, this isn’t a great film, but it is an interesting one. Whether you think it was worth your time will be a combination of what you think of the actors and how much of the history you already know or think you know. The 1890s weren’t a pretty period for women or native Americans. If you you do make the time for this movie and want to keep it a true learning experience, pop in Wind River afterwards and find where it all leads and how little has changed.