Cinematography, Acting Not Enough To Save Cinedigm’s ‘Hickok’

Courtesy: Cinedigm

This past Tuesday, independent movie studio Cinedigm released its new Western offering Hickok to audiences on 4KHD/BD combo pack.  While the movie is loaded with impressive cinematography and a cast composed of well-known actors, it still sadly falls short both within the Western genre and in the bigger picture of this year’s new cinematic offerings, both on the big and small screen.  That is due primarily to a story that is rife with problems.  This will be discussed later.  The work of lead stars Luke Hemsworth and Trace Adkins’ is one more saving grace for this otherwise forgettable entry in the Western world.  Keeping all of this in mind Hickok proves ultimately to be worth at least one watch, but sadly not much more.

Hickok, Cinedigm’s new addition to the lengthy list of movies telling Wild Bill Hickok’s story is a work that Western fans will agree is worth watching at least once, but sadly not much more than that.  That is due at least in part to the movie’s cinematography.  From the movie’s Civil War opening scene to the seemingly constant shootout scenes that fill the movie’s 88-minute run time (it seems like the movie relies on those scenes more than anything else on a side note, which will be discussed later) to the simplicity of the jail scenes and more, those behind the cameras are to be applauded for their work in making the movie bearable.  That is because they manage so well to capture the energy and the emotion of each scene, whether the scene be something light-hearted, something tense or outright energetic.  The movie’s opening scene, which presents Bill Hickok as a Union Commander during the Civil War, is a prime example of the talent of those abilities.  The movie’s camera crew expertly captured the tension and energy of what it must have been like to be combatant in the war.  The problem with that scene is that it really has almost no bearing on the rest of the movie.  Audiences are left to wonder about the scene’s role until much later in the movie’s run.  This, too will be discussed later.

The scenes inside the Bull’s Head Saloon, while not as action packed as other scenes, are more prime examples of the talents of the movie’s camera crew.  While the scenes are relatively simple, the camera crew’s work does a good job of capturing what is believed to have been everyday life in an old west saloon.  From the guys playing poker to the women working the building as the men drank and played cards to other mundane items, their work expertly captured those scenes, which are among some of the movie’s best moments.

The movie’s constant shoot-out scenes are just as notable as the other noted scenes in explaining the importance of Hickok’s cinematography.  That is because those scenes evoke a certain amount of tension without much effort.  From one scene to the next, the camera crew’s talents are on constant display, even when no shots are fired.  That is saying a lot, too.  It shows yet again just how much work was put into this movie’s cinematography.  When it is joined with the other noted examples and so many other moments, the whole of those moments makes fully clear why this movie’s cinematography carries it—at least in part—on its back.  Keeping this in mind, the movie is not without at least one major flaw.  That flaw is its writing.

From its start to its end, Hickok’s script, crafted by Michael Lanahan, presents so many problems including a complete lack of any back story to set the stage for this presentation.  Audiences know, thanks to the movie’s opening Civil War scene, that allegedly Bill Hickok served as a Union Commander during the conflict.  From there, the movie jumps randomly to a scene of Hickok being awoken, naked, in a tub by a pair of lawmen for apparently stealing a horse.  There’s no back story here, either.  If that is the past that he is trying to escape (the premise on the back of the movie’s box states he is trying to escape his past), then that is not much of a bad past.  That in itself becomes extremely problematic since it doesn’t give audiences much reason to sympathize with Hickok.  The only real hint of a bad past that audiences get comes late in the story as it is revealed that Hickok might have been a Union spy.  Even that though doesn’t play into who Hickok is in this movie.  As if all of this is not bad enough, Hickok’s meeting with evil saloon owner Phil Poe (Trace Adkins) seems to happen as randomly as Hickok becoming the Marshal of Abilene, Kansas as does the revelation of Hickok’s previous relationship with Mattie, who apparently is engaged to Poe.  The problems with the movie’s script don’t end with the items noted here.  From seemingly random scene and mood shifts to other plot holes that the story barely attempts to fill, this script leaves the movie’s nearly 90-minute run time feel like it is far longer.  Thankfully, the work of Hemsworth and Adkins works on its own to make those problems bearable if not forgivable.

Hemsworth, who is most well-known for his work on Westworld, The Anomaly and Infini slides into his role as the infamous old west gunslinger just as expertly as those who recorded his work.  His cool-natured approach to the famed figure echoes back to the days of Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’ and even somewhat to Ed Harris’ take of Virgil Cole in Appaloosa.  It shows his ability to handle even this kind of role, even despite what little he had to work with in the movie’s script.  It’s just too bad that he had to show that ability while having to tackle his character’s presentation in that script.

On a similar note, Trace Adkins, who is himself no stranger to Westerns—he previously starred in Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story, Traded and The Virginian—is spot on as the vile Phil Poe.  It would have been so easy for him to overact here, which he has done in his previous efforts.  In this case though, his portrayal of the suave yet villainous saloon owner leaves one easily hating Poe, which is a tribute to his talents.  It shows finally that maybe, just maybe, he does indeed have some potential as an actor.  Considering this, his work shows just as much as that of Hemsworth to be critical in making this movie bearable if only for one watch.  When the duo’s work is joined with the movie’s cinematography, the two elements do just enough to save Hickok.

Cinedigm’s latest jaunt into the Western world is a movie that is worth at least one watch by those who are fans of the genre.  Sadly though, it is not worth much more than that.  That is due in large part to a story that suffers from problems of plotholes, pacing and so much more.  Luckily, the movie’s cinematography and the work of its lead stars makes up for the shortcomings of that script.  One could even argue that the movie’s production crew, responsible for the movie’s sets, and those behind the costumes and makeup, deserve some credit, too.  While their contributions do serve to help the movie some more, the whole of those elements and the previously noted elements still are not enough to make up for a story that misses every one of its marks.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other titles from Cinedigm is available online now at:










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