Big-screen dramas tend to concentrate on the more fiery emotions. For every movie about hate there's two about love - yet there are hardly any about friendship. In The Hi-Lo Country, Woody Harrelson and Billy Crudup conspire to create a believable friendship that's so fierce, it overshadows their relationships with their girlfriends, as well as their enemies. They clearly love each other (in the brotherly sense) but are such macho, hard-drinking, cow-handling lugs that they're never able to express it. So much so, that when Big Boy shacks up with the object of Pete's unrequited love (Arquette), the two never mention the friction this causes.
Both Pete and Big Boy are far from perfect - Pete practically ignores his adoring girlfriend Josepha (Cruz), while Big Boy openly hates his younger brother - yet their love of the old ways holds them together. At one point, Big Boy admits that trucking the cattle to market is more cost effective than leading them across the plains, but adds: "So what? Why would we truck them when being a cowboy is so much fun?" They're dinosaurs and they know it - as does Jim Ed Love, who displays respect for the pair, despite their hostility towards him.
Although it's clearly a Western, with big skies and larger-than-life characters in big hats, The Hi-Lo Country has an offbeat feel to it, due in part to the late '40s setting, but also because of the director casting a Limey's-eye view on America's most holy genre. Frears highlights just how odd their culture can be - at one point, Big Boy's grandmother mentions that three generations of men from the family have died from gunshot wounds.
Despite its slow pace, The Hi-Lo Country stays captivating because the actors, writer and director have created real people in a real setting. By the end, you come to care about this group of characters who insist on living what they know is a doomed lifestyle.
The Hi-Lo Country explores a friendship which endures jealousy, hardship and the disappearance of an entire way of life. It's a unique and engaging Western, and once you've got used to the lazy pace, you'll find it a touching, life-affirming experience.