'Hickok': Film Review

Hickok -Still 1-Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Status Media & Entertainment
Western comfort food.

Luke Hemsworth plays Wild Bill in this oater also featuring Kris Kristofferson, Trace Adkins and Bruce Dern.

The innate superiority of the Hemsworth family gene pool is demonstrated by Timothy Woodward Jr.’s low-budget oater in which Luke, older brother to Chris and Liam, plays Wild Bill Hickok. A perfectly serviceable Western featuring a comfortingly familiar storyline, Hickok will tide genre fans over until more substantial offerings come along.

Following in the footsteps of such actors as Gary Cooper, Jeff Bridges and Sam Elliott, among many others, the burly Hemsworth proves more than credible with his portrayal of the iconic gunslinger, the sort of archetypal Western character who doesn’t bother to remove his boots while taking a bath. The film, loosely based on real events, focuses on a chapter in Hickok’s life when he served as the marshal of Abilene, Kansas, in the 1870s.

Intent on bringing law and order to the violence-torn community, Hickok decrees a ban on firearms within city limits (a plot element that may prove jarring to many shoot-'em-up fans). This doesn’t sit well with saloon owner Phil Poe (Trace Adkins), who fears the effect it will have on business and also resents Hickok’s past romantic relationship with beautiful single mother Mattie (Cameron Richardson). Poe puts a bounty on Hickok’s head, attracting the interest of yet another iconic Western figure, John Wesley Hardin (Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau).

You can pretty much guess the rest, with Michael Lanahan’s screenplay incorporating standard Western tropes and characters including a righteous mayor (Kris Kristofferson) and crusty town doctor (Bruce Dern), not to mention the love interest’s young son (Hunter Fischer) who bears a more than coincidental resemblance to Wild Bill.

Hemsworth, forgoing the long locks and mustache normally associated with his real-life character, invests his portrayal with doses of entertaining humor. He receives solid support from the veteran cast: Kristofferson exudes effortless gravitas; Adkins, who’s made acting in Westerns a steady side gig from his country music career, uses his endlessly deep voice to effectively menacing effect; and Dern (who’s apparently been unable to achieve significant career momentum from his Oscar-nominated turn in Nebraska) amusingly provides the effect of a modern-day Walter Brennan.

There’s absolutely nothing memorable about the film, which is unlikely to replace such previous cinematic depictions of its central character as Wild Bill and HBO’s Deadwood in anyone’s memories. But it boasts plenty of gritty period atmosphere and earns points for its lack of pretension. Resembling both an old Republic Pictures programmer and an episode of the sort of Western drama series that were once a broadcast network staple, Hickok will prove appealing to the sort of older filmgoer who complains that “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

Production companies: Status Media & Entertainment, Vision Tree Media, Paterson Enterprises, Avery Production, Pay It Forward Entertainment
Distributor: Cinedigm
Cast: Luke Hemsworth, Trace Adkins, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Dern, Cameron Richardson, Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau, Hunter Fischer
Director: Timothy Woodward Jr.
Screenwriter: Michael Lanahan
Producers: Henry Penzi, Chris Nicoletti, Timothy Woodward Jr., Luren de Normandie
Executive producers: Kirk Peterson, Eric Peterson, Benjamin Gerry, J.D. Seraphine
Director of photography: Pablo Diez
Production designer: Christian Ramirez
Editor: Ned Thorne
Costume designer: Nikki Pelley
Composer: Andrew Joslyn
Casting: Lauren De Normandie

88 minutes