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Film / Broken Trail

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Broken Trail is a made-for-TV movie directed by Walter Hill and first broadcast in 2006 on AMC. It is, to a large extent, a vehicle for Robert Duvall, who gets to play his favorite role, that of the grizzled, world-weary but honorable cowboy. The film is thus considered part of Duvall's informal Western trilogy, whose first two instalments were Lonesome Dove and the Kevin Costner-directed feature movie Open Range.

The story takes place in 1898. Duvall, as old rogue Print Ritter, and Thomas Haden Church, as his nephew Tom Harte, are driving Oregon ponies to Wyoming, where they are going to be sold to a horse trader working for the British army, who need mounts for the Boer War in South Africa and are paying top dollar. On their way, they come across five young Chinese women who have been sold into prostitution and are being taken to their new owner, a ruthless madam in a mining town. Ritter and Harte rescue the women from their sordid fate and decide to take them to safety.


Contains examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Bywaters has a thing for Nola, but not the kind of thing that might make her a Morality Pet. She's scarred physically and emotionally from his past abuses.
  • Berserk Button: Neither Tom nor his Uncle Print take kindly to men who sexually assault women of any race.
  • Big Damn Heroes: A couple times. Thomas Church is in all of them, and on one occasion shoots off a man's thumbs.
  • Cattle Drive: With horses rather than cattle, but apart from that the trope is played straight.
  • Chinese Launderer: Lung Hay.
  • Cool Old Guy: Print. Come on, he's Robert Duvall, after all.
  • Cowboy: Ritter and Harte.
  • Driven to Suicide: Number Four gets raped once too many.
  • Fair for Its Day: In-Universe Tom and Print's treatment of Lung Hay's scalp laceration. Their discussion of "how a Chinaman values his lid" would give the modern Political Correctness crowd a heart attack, but in context, it shows that they are genuinely sensitive to Chinese cultural values (at least the ones they know of) and want to make sure that he won't be left with a potentially-undignified scar.
    • For that matter, Tom always addresses him as "Mister Lung Hay." It's clear that Lung is not used to being respectfully addressed by a white man.
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  • Fat Bastard: "Big Rump" Kate provides a female example. Dear God, does she ever.
  • Fingore: Tom blows a rapist's thumbs off with his Colt Peacemaker.
  • Four Is Death: Because the cowboys can't pronounce the women's real names, they name them "Number One" to "Number Five". When the women realize this, "Number Four" objects to being given an unlucky number for a name. One of the other women eventually accepts to be "Number Four", and she does so because she fully expects a tragic fate to befall her, which indeed it does.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Nola.
    • Averted by "Big Rump" Kate, the ruthless head prostitute who originally bought the Chinese girls. A Chinese local assures the heroes it would be kinder to just go ahead and slit the girls' throats rather than leave them in the same town as Kate.
  • Made of Iron: Bywaters and his thugs beat Prentice Ritter savagely and are about to graduate from beating to Cold-Blooded Torture, while not being shy about what they plan to do to the girls. As soon as Tom gets their attention, Print picks up a blacksmith's hammer and turns Bywaters' skull inside-out with it.
  • Meaningful Name: Likely unintentional. "Ritter," the main character's surname, is the German term for "knight."
  • Papa Wolf: Prentice Ritter is a very nice guy, but don't ever threaten the people he cares about.
  • Rape as Drama
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: When a drunk severely beats Lung Hay and rapes Number Four, Tom leaves him crippled for life. Print later beats the Big Bad to death with a hammer for threatening to rape Nola (again) and the girls.
  • Scenery Porn: The camera can't get enough of the American West's wide-open vistas.
  • The Sheriff: Once, in passing. He doesn't do much, mostly because he's hunting Ed Bywaters, but has no notion of where to look for him.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Bywaters is a psychotic murderer, rapist, and thief who never raises his voice.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
  • Would Hurt a Child: Ed "Big Ears" Bywaters is explicitly clear about exactly what he and his thugs intend to do to the girls. While Tom deals with the thugs, Print makes it even clearer that he will not let that happen.


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