A North Dakota rancher accused of neglecting his livestock becomes a fictional Big Conspiracy wingnut wet dream in “The Stand at Paxton County,” a nasty little piece of prairie propaganda that no film distributor would touch but Netflix has picked up for streaming.
So “true story?” Not exactly. Not even close.
It’s a film of animal rights activists conspiring with veterinarians and a corrupt sheriff’s department to seize animals and perhaps, it’s suggested, ranches themselves.
The little hints of truth — aged farmers and ranchers losing their grip on operations and animals that they aren’t able to pass down as their children are moving away — is buried under a mountain of horse manure, weekly newspaper “hit” pieces on targeted ranchers, animals seized for cash value and the fond hope that failing ranchers will just commit suicide.
Jacqueline Toboni plays Janna, a surgeon summoned from her Army field hospital in the Middle East back home to North Dakota because there’s trouble on the ranch. Her curmudgeonly dad (Michael O’Neill), was confronted with surprise inspections from the sheriff’s department and state-authorized veterinarians who have found the place in disrepair and the horses he keeps skin and bones.
Dell had a heart attack.
When Janna gets back, she wonders who ratted them out, wonders why the hunky ranch hand who was supposed to be keeping the place up didn’t do the work and wonders where that ranch hand ran off to once the inspections begin and the ranch is imperiled.
For some reason, this corner of Western North Dakota (it was filmed in California) is covered by a snooty reporter from The Fergus Falls Gazette, when Fergus Falls is hundreds of miles away, in Minnesota.
Anyway, Janna and this newer hunky ranch hand (Tyler Jacob Moore) and a local lawyer team up to fight whatever conspiracy is behind all this and save the ranch.
Christopher MacDonald (“Quiz Show”) plays the sheriff, who might be sympathetic but might just be in on it, too.
The leads are fairly low on the charisma pecking order, save for MacDonald, and the movie’s drama is tepid, even at its most worked-up.
The picture is designed to push a lot of buttons and isn’t the least bit subtle, or honest about it. Got to have a soldier so you can wrap all this up in the flag and camo, got to have “liberal elites” taken on by slow-talking cowgirls, cowboys and their kin. Even the lawyer’s wearing a ten gallon hat.
But maybe you don’t see how you’re being played.
If you’re an angry, anti-government Western conservative looking for comfort that “they’re out to get Real Americans” in this, I have a news flash for you. Big Oil anti-environmentalist Lucas Oil money backed the picture. These are the same right wing propagandists who blamed environmentalists for droughts in “Pray for Rain.”
THAT is your real conspiracy.
Any time you muck out a barn, you’re getting a gander at what the Lucas (Kochs without the clout) clan is serving up in feature film form. They’re full of it. I didn’t have to look up the production company’s real owners to smell Lucas BS, HS and whatever other S they’re serving up here.
MPA Rating: R for some violence and language
Cast: Jacqueline Toboni, Michael O’Neill, Tyler Jacob Moore and Christopher MacDonald.
Credits: Directed by Brett Hedlund, script by Carl Morris, David Michael O’Neill. An ESX Entertainment Netflix
Running time: 1:42