Louis L’Amour’s 1954 novel is beautifully adapted in TNT’s “Crossfire Trail.” Full of understatement — and gunplay — the cabler’s oater is a tribute to jealousy-driven tall tales, and it capitalizes on a restrained performance from Tom Selleck. L’Amour fans will certainly be satisfied, while its simply told story about honor and respect should attract viewers who aren’t necessarily familiar with the “Hondo” author, who died in 1988.
Selleck is Rafe Covington, a charismatic drifter who assures a dying man that he will look after his wife and her property. That pledge leads Covington to Wyoming, where he assembles a gang of riders to help him navigate through uncharted territory. Joining him are Joe Gill (Wilford Brimley), a wisdom-filled sidekick; Rock Mullaney (David O’Hara), a joke-telling Irishman; and good-hearted cook J.T. Langston (Christian Kane).
Establishing an unwelcome foundation in the small town, they come up against two major hurdles. Ann Rodney (Virginia Madsen) is the confused widow Covington promised to protect, but she has no reason to trust him. Worse, she’s engaged to the conniving and violent Bruce Barkow (Mark Harmon), a wealthy bar owner who forces Ann into marriage after discovering that her ranch is rife with petroleum reserves.
After Covington expresses a romantic interest in Ann, Barkow’s vicious nature emerges; he drafts Bo Dorn (Brad Johnson) as a hired gun to rid the city of Covington and his men.
Project benefits from Simon Wincer’s sturdy direction. Reteaming with Selleck — they paired for 1990’s “Quigley Down Under” — Wincer is definitely the right man for this job, having helmed the mother of all TV Westerns, “Lonesome Dove.” His sensitive take on machismo is obviously a strong suit, captured again here through a sincere treatment of the high plains and the adoration of a bygone era.
As adapted by Charles Robert Carner, “Crossfire Trail” is as much about introspection as it is about retaliation. The hero’s mission is clear — to protect and serve — and Selleck conveys that with a silent strength.
That approach is matched by an accomplished supporting cast, including Madsen as a strong-willed femme, and Selleck’s sidekicks, who add some humor and heart to a plot rooted firmly in one man’s promise to another. The only misstep is Harmon, who is much too soft to be a dastardly villain.
Lenser David Eggby uses the lush Calgary countryside to great effect, while Elsa Zamparelli’s costumes and Roy Forge Smith’s production design are tops.