Tracking down an old friend who has revenge on his mind…
After the American Civil War, a sheriff is tasked with bringing the outlaw “The Saint” to justice.
If you have just under an hour and a half to spend, use it wisely and lose yourself in this immersive story set during and after the American Civil War. The Warrant (2020) is the tale of John Breaker (Neal McDonough) and his army friend Virgil’s strong friendship during the tail end of this war and how their past came back to haunt them both a few years later.
The film is partly a Western and partly a war film. However, this film plot is at its heart a story of what it is to be human. This theme (and the film’s title) explained in Union Army soldier John Breaker’s opening narration. This theme telling at a deeper level of our internal battle or struggle against a reckoning. A reckoning is explained within the film as facing up what you have done, and those things you didn’t do and this is seen with these two leading characters.
This story is told in a non-linear style. It takes us to two different years, with the present of 1869, but with flashbacks to 1864 throughout the film. The flashbacks when pieced together like a jigsaw tell this full story showing these two men’s friendship.
In the opening scene, we see the sound and sights of gun and cannon fire in 1864. Breaker was a Union soldier, and we learn of his army life during some of the final battles of the war. At this time Breaker developed a strong friendship with fellow Union Army man Virgil (Casper Van Dien).
The two men are firm friends, and they see each other as brothers. A similar bond develops between their sons, also serving the Union cause. Virgil becomes (understandably) distraught after his son is killed in battle. He vows revenge on the Confederate army, vowing to avenge his son’s killer.
Back in the present day of 1869, John Breaker is now living his life in a small Missouri town with his wife (Annabeth Gish). He is now a small town Sheriff with his loyal Deputy, Bugle (Gregory Cruz). Bugle knows John well and supports him in everything with humour and understanding.
Cal (Steven R McQueen) is now a US Federal Marshall. He rides into town and asks his father for his help to serve a warrant to the man known as “The Saint”, and his gang of fearsome outlaws. However, it’s not that simple… it’s revealed that “The Saint” is Virgil, their old Army friend. Virgil is now the ringleader of a vicious gang of men (and one woman). This group is robbing and killing former Confederates and these actions are putting peace in jeopardy.
John Breaker is torn about bringing his friend to justice. The Breakers, Bugle and Cal’s Deputy, Shanks (Greg Perrow) leave town to find and bring this group into custody. Another gang has the same idea. This is financially motivated as the Saint and his followers have a bounty on their heads… and there is much more to this story.
I loved this film as it brings a human element and ethical dilemmas to common Western tropes. The flashbacks from the war flesh out the relationship of the two men, leading up to the events of the present. The story was excellently cast with some fine performances and accompanied by a haunting score.
The film has some gorgeous cinematography with stunning vistas, sunny meadows and battle scenes. Beautifully shot montages add to the ambience. The realistic battle scenes were filled with gunshots, explosions and cannon fire. By showing small groups in battles rather than a vast CGI army, we see the battle from a personal point of view. The individual story of these men was the greatest strength of the film and was felt in every scene.
John Breaker was an interesting character, a strong yet flawed man. At first, he appears scared to face up to his past with Virgil – and we learn why as the film progresses – yet when he does face up to his fears, he is redeemed, allowing him to move on.
McDonough’s on-screen chemistry with McQueen as a father and son was credible, natural and sincerely played. I enjoyed watching their warm rapport as both the men shared their stories of love, life and more on their journey to face Virgil and his gang. McDonough was a charismatic lead and empathetic in his fatherly role. He also showed a fun comedic side to his character in his scenes with Cruz, and these delightful moments made their characters more realistic and human.
Van Dien was an unrestrained joy as the villain of this piece. He hammed it up as a sharp dressed cigar chomping bad guy. These attributes reminding me of Leonardo Di Caprio’s Candie in Django Unchained (2012). He made Virgil a more likeable and sympathetic man in this movie.
I felt the rawness of Virgil’s pain after his son was shot, which was conveyed in such a convincing manner. This event motivates his character’s actions. Van Dien showed a stronger performance fuelled by strong sadness and anger rather than hatred of the enemy. Despite his exploits, you felt he and McDonough still felt a deep friendship between them in each of their encounters every time they met.
Annabeth Gish had a small but important role as Bonnie Breaker, mother to Cal and John’s wife, a supportive and understanding wife and mother. I felt that McQueen gave a quietly confident and measured performance and he gave admirable support to the lead. The twists that centred around his character in the past and present, made him an equal in the action scenes. I would like to see more of all these characters and this film could easily be a pilot for a fabulous new Western TV series. To go a wee bit random… in the words of Mark Lester as Oliver Twist, “Please Sir can I have some more…?”
A disclaimer and personal thank you to Tina Helms from INSP Films for asking me to write this post. Financial compensation was not received for this post, however, I received a copy of this film in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed here are my own. I would also like to add that Tina Helms kindly provided these stills and personally agreed to me using these photographs from this movie in my blog. If you are involved in the entertainment industry and would like to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.