This dark fantasy-adventure set in the Sierra Nevada in 1847 is at its best when it’s least overtly allegorical–and fortunately that’s most of the time. Guy Pearce plays a strangely hapless captain whose inadvertent heroism during the Mexican War gets him dispatched to a desolate outpost where the soldiers have too much time on their hands. When a half-dead traveler (Robert Carlyle) turns up with a harrowing story to tell, the men embark on a mission that becomes the ultimate test of their mettle. As the characters confront a taboo some viewers may find unappetizing, the finely toned comedy, affecting landscapes, deceptively low-key performances, and powerful sense of the relationship between the grisly and the metaphorical allow the cautionary colonialism of this amoral tale to give way to something much more provocative and primal. Antonia Bird directed a screenplay by Ted Griffin; with Jeffrey Jones. Biograph, Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Chatham 14, Evanston, Ford City, Golf Glen, North Riverside, 600 N. Michigan, Village North.

–Lisa Alspector

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.