Day of the Outlaw

Day of the Outlaw ★★★★★

[96]

It’s a specific film until it becomes another one entirely with a sudden shift through which De Toth never fumbles the tension, slyly rearranging the pieces to enforce a drastically different power dynamic: A rugged rancher at provincial war with local homesteaders and farmers—plus engaged in a clandestine affair with his most outspoken adversary’s wife—abruptly flips from the town’s biggest incendiary to its only hope, a structural remodeling that occurs at, quite literally, the (near) drop of a bottle. Years-old conflicts are thrust to the backburner as territorial concerns seem trivial next to basic survival. Once Captain Bruhn’s fleet settles in, everything swells like a warm powder keg; the only thing precluding detonation is the dwindling obedience of his crew. As the teetotaling, female-free nights grow colder and longer, Bruhn’s words become less and less legislative, his authoritative stature waning as the uninterrupted restlessness waxes. Meanwhile, a botched bullet extraction prolongs mayhem, but only momentarily; internal bleeding doubles as a countdown to destruction, once again forcing Blaise to switch roles from savior to sacrificial lamb. He and Bruhn are sober to the situation—its possible outcomes and the subsequent consequences—both willing to die in lieu of reverting to their brutal, archaic ways. They’re looking not for self-glorification but the humble absolution of blameless people from undeserved bloodshed. It’s a film as solipsistic as it is bleak - except, paradoxically, where you’d least expect - confined solely to a middle-of-nowhere, snowed-in town; it’s as though no outside world could possibly exist. This is the world in microcosmic form as far as purity of spirit is concerned: The innocents and the outlaws. The chivalrous and the barbaric. The heroic and the helpless. The ethical and the evil. The good and the bad—but it’s all ugly: Black and white eventually muddles into an incomprehensible gray. Morality is simply relative to wherever it is you’re standing: ”There are worse things, madame, than dancing with lonely men.”

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