However you view the western in American filmmaking — as a moth-eaten relic or an eternal form to be resurrected every few years — there’s something stale about Kane Senes’s tepid historical drama Echoes of War, which utilizes the genre’s symbols without delivering on its potential for moral or narrative satisfaction.
Set in a rural Reconstruction-era Texas where exactly seven people are still living, Echoes of War serves up a scummy cattle baron named McCluskey (William Forsythe) who’s lost all his cattle. There’s also a mysterious rider (James Badge Dale) named Wade who turns out to be the long-lost brother-in-law to local milquetoast Seamus Riley (a cueball-bald Ethan Embry) and beloved uncle to two pipsqueaks (Owen Teague and Maika Monroe) whose food, he discovers, is being stolen right out of their mouths by the villainous McCluskey clan.
It takes a great deal of ho-humming for this conflict to come to a head — nearly 90 minutes of Seamus scraping a razor across his scalp, blood dripping from skinned rabbits, and tedious dinner scenes. Like John Hillcoat, director of the wonderful revisionist western The Proposition, Senes is an Aussie playing with American mythology, though in this case, there’s little to indicate who these characters are, let alone their roles in the largest civil conflict in U.S. history.
The actors look like they’ve just emerged from a trailer where they were combed, scrubbed, and instructed to speak in quasi-Texan mush-mouth (Monroe, a likable scream queen in It Follows, looks woefully contemporary). It works for William Forsythe, a veteran at portraying scabrous, degenerate types, but he’s about the only convincing part of this long slog through our country’s stinky past.