REVIEW: The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter (2018)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter — Directed by Jody Hill.

It is a good year to be Josh Brolin. Sure, we are more than halfway through the year, but, still, it is remarkable how one actor has managed to star in so many films this ‘early’ into the year. Over the course of this summer, Brolin has appeared in not one, not two, not three, but four films.

He has starred in two superhero films this summer (Avengers: Infinity War & Deadpool), he has appeared in the sequel to Sicario, and now he appears in something as simple as a bonding comedy from the co-creator of Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, which was released on Netflix just a few days ago.

The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter is an American comedy film about the star of a series of hunting DVDs, Buck Ferguson (played by Josh Brolin), whose latest idea is to make an ‘episode’ about him and his young son bonding while hunting deer. His son, Jaden (played by Montana Jordan), however, isn’t exactly the ideal fit for such an endeavor.

Jaden lives with his mother, Caroline (played by Carrie Coon) — Buck’s ex-wife — and has a better relationship with his step-father, Greg (played by Scoot McNairy), than his actual father. On top of all of that, he is impatient, obsessed with his phone and his vlog, and he’s got a girlfriend who he insists must hear from him at all times.

Let’s just say, he isn’t exactly the kind of kid you’d take out in the middle of nowhere to hunt an animal that runs away whenever a sound is made. Nevertheless, it is a pretty good idea for one of Buck’s episodes, and Buck’s trusted but inappropriate cameraman, Don (played by Danny McBride), is there by his side to help him along. And over the course of the short 83-minute runtime, you get to see Buck predictably struggle to find common ground with his young son.

It would be much too generous to say this film takes a stance on what it means to be a man or the idea of hunting as a means of bonding or hunting with guns altogether. This movie isn’t really about much. it doesn’t really have a bite to it.

It is a dull and aimless bonding film that doesn’t pick up on any of its interesting story threads. Brolin is the one and only highlight here, in a performance that seems to improve upon and elevate what is on the page. Brolin seems dedicated to the role, and his character’s desperation as a parent is played really well by Brolin, even though, I think, the film doesn’t quite make full use of him. McBride and Brolin are both funny, and the film has its moments, but some of the humor is wildly inappropriate and cringeworthy.

It isn’t an egregiously bad film, but more than anything Jody Hill’s latest film is just a dud. It doesn’t ever gel or manage to feature its compelling performance in a way that satisfyingly moves the story forward. It just sits there waiting for something to happen, but very little ever happens except for some forced excitement towards the end and a genuinely funny rope bridge scene.

In the film’s opening, hunting is referred to as a true American tradition, but the film doesn’t really go anywhere with that. You get the sense that the film could’ve also been about whether or not Buck truly cares about his son when Buck tells his cameraman that they have to ‘sell the father-son relationship right off the bat,’ but the film seems much more interested in assessing how much Buck cares about Don.

I mention this to express that it seems like they never really knew what to do with the film’s concept other than to make it a half-cocked male-bonding film seen from the perspective of a worried parent. In the film’s third act, the film becomes a different beast entirely, in a conclusion that I saw as being decidedly over-the-top and uncompelling. Ultimately, the filmmaker doesn’t do enough with the film’s concept to make proper use of a truly committed central performance from Brolin.

5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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