The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter | Review
The Journey of a Father and Son and their Cameraman
Longtime collaborators Jody Hill and Danny McBride have teamed up again to take on a film with themes similar to their beloved HBO series Eastbound and Down. In that show, McBride plays a loud-mouthed, washed up baseball player whose most urgent motivation concerns salvaging his legacy. Their new film, The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter, similarly deals with this idea that a man must achieve a certain level of success to ensure his name and memory outlive him. Hill’s take on legacy, and the insecurity of not leaving one, is particularly sharp here as the story focuses on the relationship between Buck (Josh Brolin) and his son Jaden (Montana Jordan). Two years into his divorce, Buck is struggling to maintain a connection with his 12 year-old son. So his plan to win Jaden’s admiration is to take him hunting and help him bag his first deer.
Brolin’s Buck Ferguson is convincing as the all-American marksman and pontificator who has made a living off mail-order DVD sales. He’s desperate for his son Jaden’s approval, and hoping that this hunting trip will forever bond them—but Jaden has a hard time with the waiting around aspect of the sport. He’d rather play with the automatic assault rifle his stepfather gifted him (to spite Buck), or chat on his cellphone with his needy 7th grade girlfriend. Buck’s cameraman Don (McBride) documents the trip, always searching for the best angle, but rarely capturing the exultant father-son story arc that Buck is after. A series of obstacles, fights and heart-to- hearts culminate in a howlingly hilarious scene with the characters navigating white-water rapids on an air mattress.
Hill employs slick aerial drone shots to capture the grandiosity of their natural surroundings, and in doing so loses some of the shaggy charm of his earlier work such as the endearingly offbeat The Foot Fist Way. Hill and McBride’s brand is all about going for the weirder or darker joke, and something about the manufactured feel of the cinematography here clashes with the script’s eccentricities. For all the amusingly bizarre details, such as Jaden’s parkour hobby and Don’s cuckold fetish, the film overall feels very safe and worth pointing out: it’s the third parent/child film in a row for producer Scott Rudin whose name also adorns the credits of Lady Bird and Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade.
The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter is abundantly generous with references to hunting as a metaphor for life. We get a sense that Hill, who grew up in North Carolina, has a sincere reverence for the great outdoors, and that not every scene is tainted with liberal irony. If Buck is Hill’s ego then Jaden would be his nagging inner voice, speaking unfiltered truth about his parents’ broken marriage and the uncomfortable feelings that come along with the dismantling and reorganization of a family. In that sense, this may be Hill’s most mature work to date. But unfortunately, Buck Ferguson won’t likely stand the test of time the way Kenny Powers is bound to.
Reviewed on March 12th at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival – Narrative Spotlight. 83 Mins.