Kyle Armstrong’s sophomore feature Hands That Bind is a western that’s more introverted than expected.
Taking place in Alberta’s prairies in the 1980s, Hands That Bind focuses on the expectations a father, Andy (Paul Sparks), sets for himself when providing for his family. The attitude these expectations are attached to, however, are influenced by the older farmers around him, hinting at an unspoken code of how a man should be. While his efforts are appreciated, this stoic demeanour is starting to wear down the people in Andy’s life; notably his patient wife Susan (a wonderfully understated and nuanced performance by This Hour Has 22 Minutes comedienne Susan Kent) who tries to enable Andy to open up. But Andy, usually on his lonesome as a farmhand, keeps his guard up.
When the cocky son (Landon Liboiron) of Andy’s boss Mac (Nicholas Campbell) moves back to Alberta, Andy is asked to relocate his family off of his boss’ property. As loyal and obedient Andy is towards his mentor, this change challenges him and he’s unprepared. He sticks to his guns, but is belittled and threatened (as are others) by the new company.
The ambiguity in Armstrong’s indie can symbolize Andy’s growing confusion or his attempts to blame his shortcomings on something else. While these occurrences add a unique flare to Hands That Bind (I was reminded of the fantasy flourishes in the Canadian indie Son of the Sunshine), these scenes start to reveal themselves as empty albeit cool visuals. Other more drawn-out and intimate scenes, such as Andy discovering a farmer’s suicide or a wise barkeep (another home run cameo by A Ghost Story’s Will Oldham) telling stories, have more lasting power and they’re still striking and enlightening.
Even though the movie wanders through its narrative as slowly as Andy does with his thoughts, Hands That Bind is worth checking out for its character work and stunning cinematography.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie