In Rachid Bouchareb’s Two Men in Town, a remake of José Giovanni’s 1973 film, William Garnett (Forest Whitaker) is on parole after serving eighteen years for murdering a deputy of Sheriff Agati (Harvey Keitel).
Agati is not at all pleased that Garnett is back in his perpetually windy New Mexico municipality, though despite what the title suggests, Two Men in Town is less about the dynamic between the two men than the reformed and newly religious Garnett’s relationship with Agent Smith (Brenda Blethyn), his parole officer.
Blethyn is wonderful as an all-too-rare character, a middle-aged woman who holds her own in a position of authority over violent men. Similarly, Ellen Burstyn has a cameo as Whitaker’s mother, and the picture wisely doesn’t attempt to explain the seeming discrepancy, nor does it need to; working together, Burstyn and Whitaker as mother and son make perfect sense.
What makes less sense is the MPAA slapping this low-key drama with an R simply for “language.” Two Men in Town is hardly wall-to-wall swearing, and it also suggests that the concerned citizens on the ratings board somehow missed the brutal acts of violence in the third act. Or perhaps the presence of some bad words, whatever the context — and a Muslim ex-con as a sympathetic protagonist — was all they needed to see.