George Ryga's Hungry Hills at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. And boy, am I glad I selected this film. What a pleasant surprise. There haven't been too many here and I was not at all prepared for the quality of this one. It took 10 years for director Rob King to bring Hungry Hills to the screen and it shows.
Based on the novel by Canadian author George Ryga, Hungry Hills is a coming-of age western that opens with a troubled young man (Keir Gilchrist as Snit) confined to a reformatory for robbing the general store. But the reality is that his crime may simply be that he's from a family of outcasts, the infamous Mandolin clan, and has to devote his teen years to proving that he's not what he appears to be.
It sets up a classic arc, in a triangle which ropes in his best friend Johnny (Alexander De Jordy) and the town sheriff (John Pyper-Ferguson). Classic role reversals dominate the storyline, which surprises at every turn. Gabrielle Rose, as Snit Mandolin's Aunt Matilda, turns in a shocking performance as the one person who seems to understand the real boy beneath the tough veneer. There's always more under the surface than the viewer initially gleans from the action, as though Ryga's book (adapted for the screen by Gary Fisher) is actually a mystery/psychological thriller that just happens to be set in old Saskatchewan.
Long takes with little dialogue give the actors, particularly young Gilchrist, the opportunity to show the extent of emotions that can be conveyed in the eyes, facial expressions, and body language normally reserved for seasoned actors (which Gilchrist is, despite his young age). King trusts his cast with the freedom to tell the story, and they're clearly up to the challenge. Hungry Hills fires with every bullet in its barrel. Ken Krawczyk's lush cinematography and a sweeping score by Todd Bryanton rival those of any great classic western. The images are stunning, as the film was shot with the RED camera, a new technology which is to movies what HD is to TV.
Most of all, though, George Ryga's Hungry Hills rests on the shoulders of 16-year-old Keir Gilchrist. This young man is someone to watch for. His performance, along with King's almost-flawless execution of Ryga's book, makes this film a dark horse of the festival circuit and a winner in my book.
I attended the World Premiere of
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- Author: Larry Richman
- Posted: September 25, 2009