‘Painted Woman:’ Movie Review

In 1899, life for women wasn’t the best. The setting of the later years of the Wild West makes for a perfect backdrop to portray the indignations suffered by many, out in the open, with no repercussions for perpetrators. Brothels employed many a woman and were easy to find during those years. Some women were sold out to become “kept women,” sometimes traveling from benefactor to benefactor. Not every woman was mistreated and beaten down, but many were – and very few would act against such atrocities.

Painted Woman picks up its cues from there. Inspired by the novel The Mustanger and the Lady by Dusty Richards, the movie tells the story from the point of view of the main female character, Julie Richards. She is the kept woman of Keith Allison, a wealthy man in those days, though the movie doesn’t give too many clues as to where he gets his money from. She is provided for with a home, fine clothing, food… and in return, she has to provide for Allison, including being his punching bag.

Allison hires a dangerous assassin and somewhat ruthless man named Frank Dean (The Kentucky Gentleman) who seems to have some ethics here and there. He also presents a dilemma in Julie’s life. There are glimmers of hope for her escape – maybe Dean is the man to help her find a new road? As she grows older, Julie is no longer “fit for duty” for Allison. Then, Allison trades her in for a younger girl at the same brothel where he picked up Julie, as assumed he also had done with Julie from the scenes in the opening credits. A second man comes around named Keith Wagner (The Mustanger), and her life takes yet another turn in her bid to be free.

The movie is somber and slow, delving into the silent emotions of many of the characters rather than opting for action-packed sequences. In some respects, it serves the story well. The characters are nicely developed for the film’s length, although there are some missed opportunities for further exploration of characters background, such as in the case of Wagner. There are minor issues with the movie in storyline, such as a character forgetting to load a gun (seems a little too lucky), but those things are wiped away by other factors in the overall film and by the incredibly satisfying epilogue.

All of the main actors give great performances. Stef Dawson (The Hunger Games) may be small in stature but is powerful in her role as Julie Richards, especially the last third of the movie, where she really shines. Matt Dallas (Kyle XY) is convincing in his portrayal of Frank Dean, with all the swagger and accent an assassin of his caliber needs. I had not yet heard of David Thomas Jenkins (who plays Keith Wagner), but he captivated me while on-screen. I definitely will look for him in the future. Kiowa Gordon (Chato) gave the film bits of needed comic relief as Wagner’s sidekick, and Robert Craighead (Keith Allison) stood out as the brash villain of the movie.

Often overlooked in movies are the settings and the music. Both play incredibly well to the movie’s strengths. The music (Corey Allen Jackson) is absolutely gorgeous and complements every scene perfectly. I could listen to the music a hundred times and never grow tired of its simplistic, rich beauty. Growing up in Kansas, I immediately recognized the gorgeous scenes of Oklahoma in the background. The cinematography wonderfully captures the midwestern life that I love, and it could very well still be that Wild West with that scenery. I found myself freezing the screen at times to take it all in.

Overall, Painted Woman is a deeply emotional journey of a woman who has suffered too much. It is a plot that should be told over and again, knowing that many women today still have the same plight as Julie in domestic violence situations. It’s on the verge of being a great movie with its message, and one that fans of Westerns and Dusty Richards may find surprising.

Creative Team: Director – James Cotton; Writers – James Cotton, Amber Lindley; Adapted from the novel The Mustanger and the Lady by Dusty Richards
Cast: Stef Dawson, Matt Dallas, David Thomas Jenkins, Kiowa Gordon, Robert Craighead
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