“You know the myth…now meet the legend.”
The western Hickok presents the famous “Wild Bill” in impressive visual style, which, along with Luke Hemsworth’s strong lead performance, deserves the royal 4K HD treatment in this worthy home video set (‘Loaded’ 4K UHD + BD, but no redeemable digital code).
Set in the mid-1870s, Hickok presents a biographical narrative loosely based on real events with a few nice tangents (e.g. Bill does mention Wyatt Earp).
Hemsworth (TV’s Westworld) leads a solid cast including Trace Adkins, Cameron Richardson, and veteran actors Kris Kristofferson and Bruce Dern. Hemsworth takes his place in impressive company with his James “Wild Bill” Butler Hickok portrayal joining Jeff Bridges, David Carradine, Gary Cooper, Sam Elliott, and Sam Shepard.
Hemsworth handles an intimidating role well where redemption, healing, and past reconciliations take the forefront. He carries his baggage well as each challenge, victory, and resolution comes at a price. Hemsworth sustains the realism as the plot continues in a natural, yet predictable flow over this specific timespan. He does his best to wrangle the strangers and gunslingers in Abilene, Kansas, after a reaching a key low point in his life.
There is a biographical tone while using some creative license as we see all his sides (gambling, gun slinging, ‘womanizing’, military service, etc.). All these entertain and have purposeful narrative functions while pointing a realistic biographical tone towards just one trait – survivor.
Woodward Jr. takes his shots close with the standard epic scenery and background establishing shot throughout this 88-minute film that ebbs into a decent, simple climax. Great cinematography from Pablo Diez who collaborates again with director Timothy Woodward Jr. (Traded, American Violence) and his crew. Screenwriter Michael Lanahan wisely leans on the strong visuals to tell the story as well while some memorable dialogue helps mold the characters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound enhances the visuals well with decent sound editing with only a few minor moments where the visual action does not seem to follow the sound.
Cameron Richardson (Alvin and the Chipmunks) plays Mattie Lyles and Mattie’s young son Joey, played by Hunter Fischer (American Violence) is well cast, especially for appearances.
Trace Adkins plays saloon owner Phil Poe, the main antagonist, with impressive screen presence that reaches beyond his obvious physical intimidation. Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereasu (American Violence, Den of Thieves) takes an impressive leap forward in his acting career as John Wesley Hardin (a.k.a. Little Arkansas) who deserves his own spin-off film. Bruce Dern (Doc Rivers O’Roark) and Kris Kristofferson (George Knox) are the town medic and mayor respectfully.
Dern (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Nebraska) gets some of the best lines (e.g. a quip about the morbid yet realistic factor that keeps his medical practice busy).
A flashback sequence is distracting, but reveals Mayor Knox’s past and the depressing state of male life in Westerns with constant dangers, challenges, and life trauma that scream for mental health resources to advance much quicker.
Kristofferson (A Star is Born, Blade, Billy the Kid) and Adkins (The Lincoln Lawyer, Mom’s Night Out, Deepwater Horizon) get to re-team (after Traded, also directed by Woodward Jr.) in a key exterior sequence that sets the stage for the film’s climax.
Creative licenses are taken with the historical materials so strict history buffs might immediately rebuff this film after seeing his role the Civil War prologue that features Hemsworth and Britain Simons (Pandemic, Disney Descendants: School of Secrets), which also communicates an obvious “I’m experienced/listen to me” mantra that remains throughout the plot.
The extra features and options on this home video set features English SDH subtitle options and features a slipcover over the physical disc case. Bonus features include the almost 15-minute featurette “The Road to Abilene: The Making of Hickok” and three deleted scenes totaling about three minutes. The featurette is great, but the subpar sound is worse than my oldest home movies, especially when listening in head phones. Hemsworth comments about the beginning Civil War sequence are drowned out from the wind (at least face the microphone the other way).
Hickok comes recommended with reservations. This Cinedigm/Status Media film has no MPAA rating, but contains war violence, profanity, gore, sexual reference, menace, sexual situations, alcohol use, gambling and nudity and has an affordable suggested retail price at $29.99. A DVD version also available along with all leading digital platforms and on demand.