Based on the novel by Alan Geoffrion, who spent five years researching the history behind the story, Broken Trail is set in the waning days of the Old West. Veteran rancher Print Ritter (Robert Duvall) and his nephew Tom Harte (Thomas Haden Church) set out on an arduous horse drive from Oregon to Wyoming. On the trail, they risk their lives to save five innocent Chinese girls who have been sold into prostitution. With this decision, the horse drive turns into a journey that leaves both the men and girls changed forever.
Broken Trail is the first original miniseries produced for the cable network AMC. For Duvall, who also executive produces, the series completes a personal trilogy that began with Lonesome Dove and Open Range. In addition to Duvall and Church, Broken Trail stars Greta Scacchi (The Player, Flightplan), Todd Allen (Wyatt Earp, Collateral Damage), Rusty Schwimmer (North Country), and Scott Copper (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), as well as introducing five new faces: Carol Chan, Olivia Cheng, Jadyn Wong, Valerie Tian, and Gwendoline Yeo as the quintet of mail order brides kidnapped for prostitution.
Review from The Patriot Resource: Broken Trail is an able first attempt at an original miniseries by AMC. Being a western, large chunks of the plot are predictable, but Broken Trail succeeds because the journey to the unavoidable resolution is so enjoyable.
First, the cinematography is beautiful. The wide shots used for scenes involving driving the horses makes one want to be out on the range taking in the beauty of the Big Country in person. The same rich color pallette is used for the five Chinese girls that Print and Tom pick up along the trail drive. However, the scenes involving the more violent side of the cowboys are drained of color and gritty, which makes for an even starker contrast between the aspects of the story.
Second, the casting works on many levels. Robert Duvall presents Print as a loving, honable old man, who still has an edge to be respected. Thomas Haden Church gives Tom Harte a stoic and yet sensitive way in which he also seems to be holding just a little something back and not quite ready to completely commit. The five Chinese girls show such much personality and yet differentiate from one another without speaking English. Heck is an intelligent and completely likable "sidekick." The villains chew the scenery as they appear to be directed to do. Thankfully, they do not have too much screentime to endanger the reserved feel of the film.
As mentioned above, the joy of Broken Trail is the meandering journey to the unavoidable ending. The cinematography and casting are brought together in the character moments that bring the story down to the personal level. There is often as much depth conveyed in the expressions of the various characters as in the dialogue itself. Just as the story is in danger of slowing to a plodding pace, moments of action are introduced. Many of these are unrelated to the main story, but still serve to deepen the characters.
One aspect of Broken Trail that this reviewer enjoyed was the historically material slipped in either as part of the greater story or as in those interludes: the poverty of China that results in the girls being brought to America, the smallpox blankets, Big Rump Kate's operation, the drive itself and how it related to the Boar War. All these served to deepen the tapestry of Broken Trail.
All that said, Broken Trail is NOT a Hallmark™ family presentation. There is some adult language and intense violence, which precludes watching this miniseries with children. However, for adults looking for a western that works on so many more levels than just fist-fighting and gun-fighting, then Broken Trail is worth watching.
Broken Trail Main Cast List
Thomas Haden Church
... Print Ritter
... Tom Harte
... Nola Johns
... Sun Foy/#3
... Mai Ling/#2
... Ye Fung/#4
... Ging Wa/#5
... Ghee Moon/#1
... Heck Gilpin
... Lung Hay
... Ed 'Big Ears' Bywaters
... Captain Billy Fender
... Kate 'Big Rump' Becker