I first saw Rustlers at last year’s FilmQuest Film Festival in Provo, Utah.
And when I did a wrap-up article, it ranked highly in my “Best of Fest” short film offerings.
But I wanted to further explore what it was that so intrigued me when I first took a look.
Rustlers follows two desperate cowboys, Blake (Brandon Lee Olive) and John (Travis Farris), as they take the opportunity – in light of old man rancher Silas’ (Cory Dangerfield) absence – to steal a few head of cattle. Thing is, Silas returns earlier than anticipated, and these two “good ol’ boys” have to deal with the fallout of their botched theft and their bad timing.
Written, produced and directed by Utah filmmaker Rob York, Rustlers reminded me (in atmosphere, not necessarily in content) of 2016’s Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water. Quite a comparison, for a film (Hell or High Water) which I secretly wanted to win most of the big awards that year.
The cinematography in Rustlers is stunning. The rural Utah vistas photographed so lovingly, will absolutely delight the viewer.
I also greatly appreciated the editing (and remarkable continuity) – notably as Silas makes his leisurely nreturn up the dirt road in his battered old truck – slowly approaching the film’s inevitable confrontation.
And to continue on the editing topic – it’s always a marvel to watch a film, whose editor totally understands timing. All throughout, every single shot was held just the right amount to provide just the right amount of information. The film never feels slow, or overdone. It’s just right.
All three of the lead performances are solid, but given the history of Blake’s character (and the reason for this seemingly unlikely crime) – well, we’re given only a taste of what he’s dealing with – and with that, Brandon Lee Olive delivers the biggest wallop, performance-wise. At the film’s conclusion, one line of dialogue spells it all out, and the hurt in Blake’s eyes – easily provides the film’s best acting moment.
As John, Farris is a sort of stereotypical, loud-mouth bad boy, and he pulls it off remarkably well. He’s a handsome guy – so the filmmaking team made a wise choice in casting him. It’s always a smart move to put a good-looking actor – to sort of play against type – and make their character something of a cocky douche-bag… a love-to-hate character, if you will.
I’ve often suggested that there are two types of short films. There’s what I call a “punchline” short – something which is perfectly suited for a 5-minute, 10-minute run-time or just beyond those specifications.
Then there are the proof-of-concept pieces (whether intended as a larger piece or not). York told me that there is a feature version of this film in development at present, and Rustlers is something which I’d definitely like to see more of.
In fact, in my FilmQuest wrap-up, I placed Rustlers on my list of “Top Ten Short Films I’d Like to See in a Feature Version”. I guess there’s hardly a recommendation stronger than that, eh?
For a 14-minute film, there are a few minor revelations at the film’s tail-end, and these tantalizing (barely hinted-at) tidbits only make me want to know more about these characters, their motives and their world.
York has created an interesting universe, engaging and mysterious characters – and most importantly, a situation which requires further examination.
At FilmQuest, Rustlers was nominated for Best Utah Short Film.
A 4.5 out of 5 star rating.