L.J. Martin is a prolific author whose work includes the Montana Series, a sequence of Westerns that blends historical accuracy with action-driven genre plots. I have not read the novels, but they seem to be well-reviewed. Eye for Eye is the first adaptation of his work, written and directed for the screen by Martin himself. It’s rough around the edges in the same way most independent productions are: the audio mix can be spotty, the score overbearing, the set design based on availability as much as accuracy. Watching something like Eye for Eye requires a bit of audience forgiveness. Not every film operates on the same budgetary playing field. Fortunately, for fans of independent film and small-budget Westerns, Eye for Eye has enough good qualities to keep its story of big-sky vengeance engaging.
The story follows Quint Reagan (Shane Clouse), a local sheriff whose pregnant wife, Consuela (Ashley Rae McGee), is raped and killed by the enforcers of Braddock (John Savage), a local land baron. Braddock has his greedy eyes on expanding his RRR Ranch property, but he never intended to see Mrs. Reagan killed. Unfortunately for him, that’s irrelevant to Quint, who leaves his badge on his wife’s grave and sets out to right the cosmic injustice that befell her.
Eye for Eye follows a pretty standard revenge plot, and the characters largely speak in hard-edged dialogue. “What’s your name, so I can put it in my ‘do not kill if necessary column,” Reagan asks a man. It’s the sort of stuff that seems fun to write and to perform.
Much of Eye for Eye is shot in interior sets with little meaningful dressing to make them feel like they belong in 1879. Characters aren’t particularly dirty, and there isn’t much in the way of creative lighting or camerawork to create an authentic period setting. There is definitely a “filmed by re-enactors” feeling to the whole thing, although it’s cast with professional actors and runs at feature-length.
I have trouble criticizing it too hard for those aspects, however, because everyone involved is committed to their roles and the world they’re trying to build. Martin wisely uses a lot of strong nature footage and outdoor photography of Montanan landscapes, which emphasizes that the purpose of this film isn’t necessarily re-creating reality but rather capturing how he feels about his home state and the land where he sets his stories. This is a film that, at the very least, seems to be more about expressing how Montana feels to Martin than simply telling a story he felt compelled to share.
The DIY element of Eye for Eye may prove to be a barrier for some audiences. I’ll acknowledge that. This is an overall positive review, with the caveat that I’m often impressed by this type of genre fare. Martin’s story embraces a lot of Western conventions and follows through with them. Greed, revenge and graphic violence are all delivered with confidence in the genre’s utility. It’s a genuine Western, no more, no less. It is by no means perfect or even particularly polished. It’s a rough artifact of a creative man’s desire to see his novel brought to life and the follow-through that made it happen. Hard not to admire that.