All Hat (2007) dir. Leonard Farlinger
Starring: Luke Kirby, Lisa Ray, Keith Carradine, Rachael Leigh Cook
"All Hat" is the newest film from Canadian director/producer Leonard Farlinger ("The Perfect Son"). Farlinger brings to the screen for the first time a story from author Brad Smith ("One-Eyed Jacks"). The film unfortunately is a dismal coming out party for Smith's material. Farlinger strips away all the salacious elements of its genre (part neo-Noir, neo-Western) as he seems to try really hard not to entertain the audience. "All Hat" is on-the-fence introspective filmmaking with barely a whimper of an emotional beat.
"All Hat" begin introducing it's 'hero' - Ray Dokes (Luke Kirby) - who's recently been released from prison for assault. He travels back home to his rural Ontario home, where he reconnects with his old pals. There's Pete (Keith Carradine) playing a been-there-done-that horse rancher, Etta (Lisa Ray) his ex-girlfriend who plays hard-to-get , Chrissy (Rachael Leigh Cook), a jockey who plays easy-to-get and Sonny Stanton (Noam Jenkins) his old nemesis and the man responsible for putting him in prison.
Ray discovers many of the farms lands are being bought up for development by Sonny to be made into golf courses and such. There's also a milieu of horse-racing (for Ontario-folk Woodbine Raceway features prominently) and Pete's prized horse which is stolen by one of Ray's slimy friends. There's very little overt conflict, and so the whole point of the film seems to be for Ray to 'find himself.'
Farlinger assembled a fine cast. The great character actor Stephen McHattie ("A History of Violence") is introduced early as a bigwig, but he quickly disappears from the film. We're left with Noam Jenkins as the antagonist. There's no comparing McHattie to Jenkins. In the opening moments I had to giggle at the sight of Lisa Ray, one of the hottest women on the planet wearing red flannel and bailing hay on a farm. Rachael Leigh Cook is a welcomed face in a Canadian film, she's played against type, as a firecracker jockey who doesn't mind sleeping around (sorry, not much skin shown here). Keith Carradine's ("The Long Riders") presence adds some authenticity to the genre, but in the end, it's just a paycheque for him too. Luke Kirby plays Ray as an inactive, ineffectual hero. He cruises the rural roads in his pickup with a furrowed brow reeking of that cynical Canadian depression that used to permeate Canadian film.
The film plays every character and plothread in the middle-of-the-road, presumably for the sake of character. It couldn't be more uncinematic. Dull conversations are played out in quiet rooms, or quiet farms, or quiet race tracks. It’s a flatline for 90mins with barely a blip of tension, or any emotional highs or lows.
There’s a glaringly lack of threat in the film. Like 90mins of an opening scene that establishes the environment, but never establishes the goals or amps up the stakes to put our hero through the emotional ringer. The film sails along with the pacing a horse’s trot to the tone of a CBC Sunday Night movie. ie. “Wind at My Back” with prettier faces.
Despite the marketing of the film, "All Hat" is no Western. The Western is a genre filled with anti-heroes, wild expansive lands filled with violence, lawless societies organized around personal codes of ethics, and grand themes of honour, sacrifice, and chivalry. At best "All Hat" is a 90mimns Old Spice commercial.