Greetings again from the darkness. Beginning with “Based on a True Story”, the movie takes us on a bumpy ride known as the life and times of Ward Allen, a silver-tongued duck hunter with a free spirit like few others. Director Annette Haywood-Carter utilizes Jack Cay Jr’s “Ward Allen: Savannah River Market Hunter” as her source material, and the marsh lands of Savannah make for a beautiful setting.
Jim Caviezel dives into the role of Ward Allen and it’s initially quite startling to see him play such a loqacious character … we are so accustomed to his normally quiet and stoic nature. Caviezel seems to revel in the courtroom scenes where he recites Shakespeare and charms the judge (Hal Holbrook) and gallery. Flip a switch and the next scene will have Allen exchanging familiar glances and verbal jousts with his duck hunting buddy Christmas (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a freed slave who is the perfect companion for Allen.
Evidently the real Mr. Allen was smart and engaging, but drank too much and constantly pushed the limits of legal hunting. His loyal dog, Rock, follows him everywhere and seems to anticipate his every need. This odd life takes a turn towards normalcy as Allen falls for a beautiful socialite played by Jaime Alexander. The two hit it off and get married, against the wishes of her father played by the great Sam Shepard. Unfortunately, it’s at this point that the movie gets convoluted and loses focus, trying to be too many things at once.
Caviezel and Ejiofor have a really nice screen presence together, but the interjections of home life between Caviezel and Alexander just stomp out any flow to the story telling. The attempts to make Mr. Allen a legendary, larger-than-life figure fall short because of the clunky script structure. The bookend with Christmas telling the stories to both a young and adult Jack Cay (Bradley Whitford) just beg for continued focus on the bond between kindred spirits Allen and Christmas. The enigmatic Ward Allen was clearly an interesting man and I look forward to reading Cay’s book … it’s just disappointing that the script was not sharpened prior to filming. It should be noted that there are a few tremendous songs throughout, including two very different versions of “Wade in the Water”.
watch the trailer: