Take away the armies and artillery and a low-budget Civil War movie turns into a Western.
The makers of the upcoming “The Keeping Room,” with Brit Marling, Sam Worthington and Hailee Steinfeld, figured that out.
And the co-writer/director Kane Senes made the same discovery before tackling “Echoes of War,” a small-scale post-war tale of a blood feud that predated Fort Sumter and picks up after Appomattox.
James Badge Dale (“World War Z,” “The Lone Ranger”) is Wade, a soldier newly returned to Texas, checking in on his late sister’s family. Brother-in-law Seamus (an unrecognizable Ethan Embry) has kept Abigail (Maika Monroe) and her younger brother Sam (Owen Teague) alive and raised them on the Good Book.
But Wade senses, straight away, that Seamus has been turning the other cheek a little too freely. He’s letting the hateful plantation owner next door (William Forsythe) and his sons hunt on his land, raid his traps for food.
Old Man McCluskey lost a son in the war, and the two sons left behind are little comfort. His wife (Beth Broderick) is crazy, and he figures the Rileys owe him some unpaid debt.
“Pop says they’re just desperate, like all folks,” Wade’s young nephew Sam offers.
Wade, still armed and with the bravado of a man who has survived combat, is itching to start something.
And Sam wants to be just like his swaggering Uncle Wade. But Abigail is being secretly courted by Marcus McCluskey (Rhys Wakefield). So this feud is sure to have echoes of Shakespeare.
The players aren’t bad, but they have too little to play, even the young lovers. It’s hard to develop empathy for characters that are simple archetypes.
It’s also a generally artless film, with little in the cinematography to suggest the painterly touches such period pieces usually merit. A little random ugliness, a pointless and grisly sex scene involving the madwoman and her mad husband, sets the tone.
“Echoes of War” needs prettier visuals and bigger ideas, because the dialogue is too formulaic and the violence to come is entirely too predictable to hold our interest for 100 minutes.
Cast: James Badge Dale, William Forsythe, Ethan Embry, Maika Monroe, Rhys Wakefield, Beth Broderick, Owen Teague
Credits: Directed by Kane Senes, script by John Chriss, Kane Senes. An Arc Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:40