Asense of loneliness pervades the atmosphere of The Mountie.
Filmed on location in the Wheaton Valley two years ago, with a sizeable contingent of Yukon cast and crew, it portrays life in a small Yukon community in 1894.
Into a tiny northern village – really, a conglomeration of tents and a makeshift church – wanders Corporal Wade Grayling, who has been tasked with surveying for a North-West Mounted Police fort.
Except for his horse Halifax, he is alone. We sense that something troublesome in his past has brought him to this sad-looking outpost.
The first sight he encounters in the encampment is a dead man hanging from a tree. A shot rings out, and a small child with a rifle walks out of the bush.
She has tried to hit the rope suspending the dead man to bring him down, but without success.
From this portentous beginning, a complex and violent chain of events envelops the lawman, the Russian émigré townspeople, a horde of murderous Cossacks who terrorize them, a beautiful but scarred young woman, and a Russian orthodox priest who tries to mediate between the villagers and the Cossacks.
Grayling is played by Montreal actor Andrew Walker, who now lives in Los Angeles.
His craggy visage, unkempt beard, battered Stetson and taciturn mutterings belie the stereotype of the clean-cut enforcer of Canadian frontier justice.
In short order we learn that the villagers have a trading arrangement with the band of itinerant Cossacks, who extort from them the product of the poppy fields that surround their outpost.
It’s revealed in flashbacks that Grayling’s own propensity for smoking opium has resulted in his demotion and assignment to this isolated post.
Despite his own checkered past, Grayling compels the villagers to burn down their opium fields and end their illicit trade, thereby invoking the wrath of the Cossack thugs.
If this all sounds somewhat improbable and out of keeping with traditional Canadian mythology, it’s deliberate on the part of the director Wyeth Clarkson.
He set out to put together something different, something unique, a “northern” in the parlance of Canadian film pioneer Budge Crawley, that would stand in stark contrast to both the American western and the movie stereotype of the good-natured, singing Canadian redcoat.
The resulting pastiche owes more to Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns than to Dudley Do-Right or Renfrew of the Mounted.
The film succeeds with magnificently executed camerawork and the quietly understated portrayal of Jessica Paré as the scarred and suffering Amethyst.
Since The Mountie was first shot (originally with the working title, Red Serge), Paré has gone on to play a major role in the TV series Mad Men.
Also worthy of mention is local youngster Kestrel Martin, who plays Amethyst’s younger sister Cleora. As the junior marksman in the film’s opening sequence, she shines with an expressiveness that surmounts her few spoken lines, and is easily one of the film’s more memorable characters.
Despite an artificially-generated simulation of Northern Lights that may possibly fool southerners, the Yukon’s natural beauty is showcased wonderfully in the film.
A sometimes-uneven plot doesn’t mar the fact that The Mountie is a creditable effort overall, and worth a look for its non-traditional portrayal of northern life near the turn of the 20th century.
The Mountie plays at the Qwanlin Cinema at 7:15 and 9:15 pm nightly with weekend matinees at 1:15 and 3:15 pm. It is rated PG for violence and drug use.
Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.