Paul O Sullivan checks out Jason Woodard’s short Cork-filmed Western, The Stranger.
It’s five minutes into Jason Woodard’s short film, The Stranger, when we first meet the mysterious title character of this brief but entertaining western. Like any character in a Western who doesn’t have a name, the stranger (played by Pat Fitz) is terse and laconic. Dressed in black, with a brimmed hat that shades his eyes, he is on a quest to avenge the deaths of his wife and son, not to mention the theft of three well looked-after horses.
Though we never witness the incidents that initiate this violent quest, in the first short act of the film we learn that three outlaws knocked a pregnant woman from a horse to make their escape after robbing a bank. This is related to us by the outlaws themselves as they settle in for the night around a campfire. The scene is reminiscent of John Ford – the campfire being the familiar catalyst for our hero to share his hopes and dream. However, in Woodard’s incarnation we instead have three villains light-heartedly joking about their misdeeds like adolescent boys (fart jokes included).
But far from handling this ostensibly heavy material too flippantly, it is the delicate balance between drama and comedy that makes the film engaging. When the stranger finally confronts the three raggedy outlaws, his morose demeanour is all that keeps the dramatic tone in check as the outlaws clownishly try to offset it with rationalisation and friendly chit-chat. Needless to say, things don’t turn out well for them.
In line with the Westerns of the Coen brothers and Tarantino, The Stranger is more a film about Westerns than a Western in itself. With a tone that’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the film reflects on the endless cycle of revenge that infuses the genre. To borrow a line that echoes throughout the film, “It’s one of them ripple effects.”
The Stranger screens on RTÉ 2 on Monday, 28th April as part of their Shortscreen series.