Snow. 1869: a bustling town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Muted tones, frenetic editing, the juxtaposition of a stark hotel room then a bar glitzy with candle light, a singer (Milla Jovovich) belts out a tune, a man is whipped outside; who or what are we expected to focus on, the camera doesn't rest anywhere long enough. Nonetheless, this is an oddly engrossing film about one man (Peter Mullan) and his dream/scheme to have the railroad run through his town. He's rich but would like to increase his wealth and power. While he's busy wooing the recently arrived railroad surveyors two women show up in town, ultimately complicating everything. Not really a mystery, not a treatise on greed or the abuse of power, blind ambition, jealousy or the like. Things happen during the time period identified and that's that; take it or leave it.
What makes this an odd film is that while it is a fascinating story, it's also cold and detached and (purposely?) aloof. The scenes are choppy, bouncing around with little regard to structure, highlighting a few people and not much action. Several important clues/flashbacks are included in such a way as to distort time. It's easy to mistake them for what was currently happening; only later realizing their full importance. There's an "a-ha" moment that's rather apathetic. Once everyone reaches the same conclusion, it's met with little excitement. Because, the other odd thing about this film is its complete lack of passion. Everything is matter of fact, whether it's the last fling with a prostitute or the killing of a man or two. It's as if everyone is simply too cold to show any enthusiasm. An example: there's an explosion and a horse runs off in flames, there is no surprise but there should be; it's all too casual.
I will say that it held my attention throughout but once it was over and hindsight had set in I instantly felt no lasting regard for it, preserving the films reserved tone.
Not a film I'd ever want to see again, glad I saw it, but it's not a keeper.