Review: Female Empowerment Indie Western, CASSIDY RED, Hits Its Mark

You work in film long enough and set goals, and eventually you find your way to a director’s chair. Such is the case with debut writer and director Matt Knudsen, fourteen years in film and having worn multiple hats over the years as he now emerges proudly with crowdfunded Western drama, Cassidy Red.

The story is largely infused with a feminist subtext focused on women amid their struggle to co-exist in the male-dominated late 1800s Old West. Toggling between varying parts of a 36 year timeline, we meet lounge pianist Cricket (Gregory Zaragoza) who obliges an exasperated hostess named Quinn (Jessy Knudsen) looking to unwind at the day’s end. At the stroke of his piano keyboard, Cricket transports you back in time to the height of our heroine’s search for vengeance for the presumed murder of her true love at the hands of the man she once would have married.

Actress Abby Eiland leads the roster as Joe Cassidy, a woman predetermined by circumstances that have bound her to marry Tom Hayes (David Thomas Jenkins), the son of a big shot town prospector. Little does Tom know of the feelings she still harbors for his adopted Indian brother, Jakob (Jason Grasl) in the wake of their shared romantic past – one that unceremoniously catches up to our trio in the worst way. With Tom scorned from jealousy and rage and his power and influence as sheriff consuming the town, Joe plots path of vengeance, ensuing bitter revelations and upheaval with her own broken family, and a fateful confrontation with Jakob’s life hanging in the balance.

Knudsen’s script lends relatably with an air of quirkiness and humor attributed to that of Eiland’s role – an outstanding woman having grown up self-sustaining and sharp-witted from her younger years. She’s tender and loving with the right people, most especially Jakob, while never helpless and is forthright in her intentions and choices regardless of almost any situation, and she confronts most things with a dose of sardonic wit.

Rob Cramer broods at all hours of the day as Cort Cassidy, Joe’s father. As someone who knows his way around firing bullets thrice as much than the complexities of his afflicted family before and after the death of Joe’s mother, he’s forced to come to terms with his own flaws in lieu of helping his eldest daughter shapen herself into someone who can face daunting odds that the business end of a pistol.

Actor Jenkins carries the torch as the film’s main antagonist, Tom, whose ruthlessness – even in the face of heartbreak – outweighs any chance of sympathy for his character. Grasl’s Jakob is a delightful counterpart to that Joe going into their adult years, intially a runaway in hiding with a box comprised of a bible and other trinkets, one of which is a Jaw Harp which a younger Joe describes its sound accordingly in jestful, sarcastic fashion.

Lawyer by day, actor Zaragoza’s role serves gentle and empathetic to his counterparts, as well supplementary to the story with a peculiar, unwritten hint regarding who his character might be with regard to a certain role in the film.

Daniel Olivas’s opening animation sets the tone for Knudsen’s revisionist folkloric tale along with Andrew Carroll’s score. Progression overall skips a few beats making a certain few turning points feel a little bit more abbrievated than they should; Oftentimes the film immerses the viewer heavily in to what’s on screen which makes following along with the narration a little enduring as it fills in the looser ends.

Solid performances from most of the cast help keep things on an even keel right until the splendid final shootout assembled by stunt coordinator and armorer Rob Jensen. Cinematography and overall lighting are a plus with the former by DoP Julia Swain, and both especially deserving of praise as Knudsen has serviced plentily in camera and electricity throughout his own career.

Whatever the case was, Cassidy Red needed about $20,000 to meet its goals a few years ago and breached its milestone by a little over a grand. Hats off to Knudsen for this, as difficult as it is to even crowdfund a beard comb much less an independent shortfilm or a whole feature length movie for even utility purposes. Moreover, it’s not frequently that we come across a Western movie led by worthwhile heroines, which makes this gem something to truly appreciate.

Knudsen’s accrued knowledge in film serves him amply in most departments for his freshman debut with attention to much detail in vision and tone for Cassidy Red. While not a perfect film, fans of Westerns might find themselves a favorite color in Knudsen’s debut entry.