"Disappearances" is a marvelous, subtly crafted elegy to a bygone era that balances its scenes of violence and gunplay with laconic humor.
***½ out of four stars
Rated PG-13 for violence and some thematic elements.
If Sam Peckinpah had set one of his closing-of-the-frontier sagas in woodsy 1930s Vermont, it would have been something like "Disappearances," a marvelous, subtly crafted elegy to a bygone era that balances its scenes of violence and gunplay with laconic humor.
The gorgeously photographed film opens with hard-luck farmer Quebec Bill Bonhomme (Kris Kristofferson) being forced back into the bootlegging business. Bill is both a loquacious dreamer and a daredevil man of action, and the fact that he named his 15-year-old son (Charlie McDermott) "Wild Bill" has more to do with his hopes for the boy than his mild-mannered nature.
When he agrees to run 20 cases of liquor across the Canadian border with his wry Cherokee brother-in-law and oddball hired man (William Sanderson), the boy is eager to come along for the adventure. He gets what he wants and a lot more.
Kristofferson is in fine, craggy form, fiddling up a storm to put a bar room full of suspicious strangers at ease, hijacking a railroad train and laconically calling their dangerous mission "the trip to end all trips" as they stay one step ahead of the lethal bandit Carcajou. With his back pressed to the wall, he uses the liquor run as an opportunity to pass on his values to Wild Bill before time runs out.
Genevieve Bujold is on hand as the boy's Aunt Cordelia, who claims she's clairvoyant and appears to Wild Bill in a number of magical-realist visions on his journey. Those little episodes are discordant with the film's overall tone, but they don't dispel this Eastern western's charming aura.