A Breed Apart

Director: Philippe Mora
Rutger Hauer, Powers Boothe, Kathleen Turner

I would like to talk about something that has mystified me for a long time, maybe even as far back as I can remember. It's something that I have found little explanation for, no matter how much work and research I have put out in order to try and find an answer. Maybe no one has tried to answer it because it only happens to a certain small group of people. What I am talking about are people who are fanatics, who are seemingly obsessed by something that the general population has little to no real interest about. It could be about anything, ranging from religion to seeking equality for a certain group of people. (Before anyone chimes in with adding "unknown movies" to the list, I should mention that unknown movies have plenty of rewards if you do enough research, so there is nothing uninteresting or unworthy about that particular subject matter.) I have been stumped as to why some things become a real obsession to some people, and having devoted a lot of thought to it, I don't really have that many answers. However, there is one thing I have managed to determine that is the seed that causes people to be obsessed with one cause or another, and that is post-secondary education. Just think about it for a little bit. When you were in grade school, did you or your fellow students ever pick up protest signs and lead a march to the front doors of your school? Probably not. But as soon as you graduated from high school and made your way to college or university, what did you discover? People with protest signs marching all over campus. For reasons unknown, the journey to post-secondary institutions warps many young people's minds and makes them obsessed about one cause or another.

There is one particular obsession that has puzzled me many times over the years, and that obsession is with animals. Namely, an obsession for animals being treated without the least bit of harm or discomfort. Now, I will say that to some degree I can agree with this. People who have pets, for instance, should give their pets enough love and care so that they are comfortable, and not abuse them in any manner. But there are some animal lovers who go beyond this simple logic and take things to great extremes. I am sure there are some animal advocates who would think even riding a horse is cruel treatment. And needless to say, there are some animal advocates who think that eating animal flesh is wrong and stick to vegetarian or vegan diets. To be quite frank, such people frequently annoy me. If other animals use animals for their own benefit, like how ants keep aphids, why is it then wrong for humans to do so? And if some animals eat other animals, why is then wrong for humans to do so? In fact, I am so annoyed by this double standard, I am going to do something for the rest of this paragraph that will upset any animal rights activists reading this review. And that is to reveal that man was built to eat meat. For one thing, look at our teeth; the design of our teeth enables man to munch on both plant material and meat. Another clue that man was made to eat meat comes from our digestive system; we have fairly simple digestive systems compared to many exclusively plant-eating animals, and that in part makes it easy for our systems to process meat.

I feel better now that I've spoiled some people's day, so I'll get back on topic. Anyway, while I don't really understand some people's obsession about the welfare of animals, I do understand why there have been very few movies made concerning pro-animal characters. For one thing, there is A Breed Aparta great risk that these movies will come across as lectures, something that audiences craving simply to be entertained will find annoying. I certainly feel that way, and that's why I've avoided a number of pro-animal movies over the years. As one legendary Hollywood movie producer once said, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." But when I came across A Breed Apart, I was intrigued. Not because of its pro-animal point of view, but because it managed to gather together an intriguing cast, which I will reveal in the following plot synopsis. The events of the movie take place in the Blue Ridge mountain range in North Carolina. A wealthy man named J. P. Whittier (Donald Pleasence, Watch Out, We're Mad) has desired something to add to his collection of rare items - bird eggs. To be more precise, he desires the eggs of a pair of endangered eagles that live in the Blue Ridge mountain range. So he hires a mountain climber named Mike Walker (Boothe, Edison & Leo) to get them for him. It's not going to be an easy task for Mike, because in the area is a seemingly mentally disturbed Vietnam veteran recluse named Jim Malden (Hauer, Flesh + Blood) who has appointed himself as protector of the animals in the wilderness. Jim's only contact with humanity is with Stella Clayton (Turner, Romancing The Stone) a single mother who runs a store in the wilderness. Mike soon realizes that he'll have to do a delicate balancing act and enact some secrecy with both Jim and Stella if he's to get the eggs for his employer.

With that particular plot setup in mind, you probably think that you have some sort of idea as to how A Breed Apart plays out. Though there is the novelty of bird eggs being the "MacGuffin", the characters may at first glace seem to be more or less like many you've seen in countless other movies before. So you may be surprised to find out upon actually watching the movie that the screenplay has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to its characters. The three central characters have more dimension than expected. Rutger Hauer's crazed Jim Malden character, for one thing, doesn't totally win over the audience like John Rambo did. Yes, his aim to protect the bird eggs and animals on his property seems noble at first glance, but he's seen hurting trespassers with his crossbow and disabling their boat so that they barely get back to civilization alive. Also, despite the fact that Stella expresses affection to Jim, their relationship is often a stormy one, with Jim's erratic behavior being the clear (and only) reason for this. The character of Mike Walker, on the other hand, comes off much better than you may think. Yes, his ambition is to get those rare bird eggs by any means necessary so he can get some desperately needed money. But we see more of a compassionate and likable side to this guy than his greed and lack of concern towards a rare animal species. He saves Jim from getting killed by those vengeance-seeking hunters, and he later gives Jim advice concerning his relationship with Stella, among many other noble actions he makes. Even the crazed Jim is eventually warmed up by this guy, admitting out loud at one point that Mike is a nice guy.

The character of Stella is also interesting in that she shows a believable attraction to both men. The positive things about each man understandably make it an interesting question as to which man she will eventually choose. This love triangle also works thanks to the good performances by each of the three leads. Hauer, of course, does the crazy parts of his character with his trademark (and entertaining) intensity, but also does well when his character shows a softer side, like realizing that he's hurt the feelings of Stella and her son. Boothe plays his character as a soft-spoken and mostly ordinary person, which went a great distance towards making his character endearing to this reviewer. Turner also goes mostly towards the same route as Boothe with her performance, though she gets a few scenes of intense emotion that she manages to tackle well. I should add that the roles are challenging to all three actors because not only do all three of their characters have more dimension than expected, the characters also experience growth and evolution as the movie progresses. The cast handles all this growth and evolution well, probably due to the fact that it's scripted to unfold in a believable manner. Though the screenplay by Paul Wheeler (The Medallion) is definitely strong when it comes to the characters, it also has at first glance some weaknesses. There are some parts of the movie where important information seems missing. For example, the first scene with Jim and Stella together starts with both characters in the middle of a conversation, which makes it hard to get a sense of their relationship in this part of the movie. There is also the subplot about those earlier mentioned vengeance-seeking hunters, who eventually storm Jim's property at night with their friends. One hunter gets killed, and it would seem that Jim has a lot of explaining to do and possibly is in trouble with the law. But instead, these hunters and their dead buddy are abruptly dropped and are never mentioned again.

To be fair to screenwriter Wheeler, as well as director Philippe Mora (Howling II), my research on A Breed Apart revealed that there was a reason beyond their control for these narrative gaps. Apparently, an extensive lot of footage shot for the movie got lost when it was being shipped back to Los Angeles, and the movie had to be assembled with what they had on hand. I will say that despite the narrative gaps, the movie for the most part does make reasonable sense. And with the footage that did manage to appear in the movie, one can still get a good taste of Mora's direction. Mora several times directs key scenes so that they are almost dream-like in feel. These particular scenes are welcome not just because they are so effective and memorable, but that they wake you up from the general tone of the movie. To put it bluntly, A Breed Apart is a slow-moving bore for the most part. The characters may have interest and are well acted by the cast, and the pro-animal message is a noble one, but all this doesn't disguise the fact that very long periods go by where nothing of real importance is happening to the characters. For example, what would have normally been the first fifteen minutes of the movie - introducing the characters and setting up the plot - is stretched out to more than half an hour. And Mike sure seems really slow to get around to executing some sort of plan to get those eggs from their mountaintop nest, not making any real progress towards that until the last twenty or so minutes of the movie. Mora several times tries to throw in a little action to jolt the audience awake, but the action scenes are mostly very badly staged (try to make sense of the night time raid on Jim's island home.) It also doesn't help that the background to all of this monotony has a very bland music score by composer Maurice Gibb of The Bee Gees. As this reviewer struggled to stay awake, I couldn't help but think that the fact that some footage was missing may have been a blessing in disguise. True, it may have made some plot points clearer, but it would have certainly made A Breed Apart run even longer and deadlier.

(Posted May 10, 2019)

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See also: Choke Canyon, Flesh + Blood, Hunter's Blood