Shot in the stunningly beautiful Carpathian Mountains, The Timber is a Western that features an odd editing style, and the kind of elliptical narrative that could well alienate audiences expecting a more straightforward plot or storyline. It’s a bold move on the makers’ part and while it does add to the overall, nightmarish quality of the brothers’ journey, there are also times when it proves frustrating. Scenes appear disjointed, and the movie is peppered with flashbacks and Samuel’s musings on the events that take place and his own mental state. It’s not a conventional approach by any means, but in the hands of screenwriters O’Brien, Steve Allrich and Colin Ossiander, it does make for an absorbing, though unpredictable viewing experience.
That said, there are enough genre conventions to help the wary viewer along. Howell is the devious land baron, Samuel’s wife Lisa is the plucky frontierswoman with a mind of her own, and the brothers are the traditional good men trying to stay that way. These staples help the movie immensely when its non-linear approach kicks in, its deliberately steady pace allowing for more detail than expected, and for the themes of betrayal, greed, revenge and madness to work their way through the narrative more effectively. It’s a considered, more thoughtful Western, and it retains a moral compass that anchors the characters.
Samuel and Wyatt appear to be opposites, with the younger brother, Samuel, seeming to be less experienced and less mature, but as the movie progresses he proves to be his brother’s equal, and by the movie’s end he’s passed through what might be termed an adult rite of passage. Wyatt is more confident, firm in his beliefs and unafraid of doing the difficult thing, but he proves just as unprepared for what happens on the journey as Samuel. In a way, it’s his over-confidence that determines how much trouble they’ll both face, and whether or not they’ll survive the ordeal.
On the distaff side, Lisa and Maggie are the type of dependable women who seem used to being left by their men, and who harbour a mainly unspoken resentment of it. Maggie is fearful for her sons’ return because she’s already lost her husband to the Timber; she doesn’t want to lose them in the same way. Lisa is fearful because of her newborn child and being left alone, and sees the brothers’ quest as being irresponsible. When they leave she makes her feelings clear by avoiding a kiss from Samuel, then adopts his role by guarding the property while they’re gone. She’s a practical woman because she has to be.
Peck and Ransone make a good pairing, their physicality and dramatic intensity proving an apt fit for the material, while Lasowski offers grit and determination to spare. Kennedy uses Maggie’s loss to present a woman living in both the past and the present, and Bailie gets the chance to reveal a greater depth to the sheriff’s character than is at first apparent. As the underhanded Howell, Glover exudes a cold nonchalance that befits his character’s greed, and for those of you who may be wondering, yes it is the same William Gaunt who appeared in the cult Sixties’ TV series The Champions who plays Jebediah (though you’d be hard pressed to recognise him).
With the Carpathians standing in for Canada’s Yukon territory, and what must have been a difficult shoot due to the conditions – there are plenty of moments where Samuel and Wyatt are wading through knee-deep snow – The Timber is a movie full of arresting visuals and stunning scenery. O’Brien directs with a reliance on close-ups to add a measure of unnerving claustrophobia to the wide open spaces, and keeps the madness – or mountain sickness – from being too over the top. At a trim eighty-two minutes, the movie doesn’t outstay its welcome, and while as mentioned before, it provides enough genre staples to keep most Western fans happy, it’s still likely to divide audiences at the end of the trail.
Rating: 7/10 – a solid, no frills Western with a psychological core, The Timber is a well-intentioned, idiosyncratic movie that impresses as often as it hesitates; there’s much to appreciate here, but it may depend on your frame of mind when watching it as to just how much appreciation it’ll receive.