For director Paul Thomas Anderson, the cutthroat world of oil drilling produced an instant classic of American cinema. But in The Iron Orchard, a new film from Ty Roberts, it provides a colorful backdrop to a curious soap opera that nobody outside of Texas will give a shit about.

Based on the 1966 book of the same name, The Iron Orchard takes place in late ‘30s West Texas. It follows Jim McNeely (Lane Garrison), a young man with the wrong kind of background to marry the love of his life, so her father gets him a job working in an oil field. Soured by this placement and desperate to have any kind of worth in this world, McNeely transforms from a semi-likable everyman to a sociopathic oil tycoon undone by his avarice and the massive chip on his shoulder.

While that loosely correlates with Daniel Plainview’s arc, There Will Be Blood this is not. McNeely is a curious amalgamation of Plainview, Jay Gatsby and every misguided lead in a romantic comedy who ostensibly does a bunch of horrible shit in the name of proving his worth to a lover. It’s like watching Ducky from Pretty in Pink in a Lifetime movie adaptation of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

The source material was thinly drawn from country club gossip of the era, penned by a member of the oil industry elite about his own dirty laundry and that of his peers, so it’s no surprise that much of the years-spanning plot winds up like a period piece approximation of “Vanderpump Rules,” with an ever expanding cast of unimportant, completely interchangeable white people in suits. But the film starts out more ambitiously. It moves at a truncated clip, as if each scene needs to run by quickly because there’s so much ground to cover.

But there isn’t that much ground to cover. There’s no texture or depth to McNeely’s narrative ascent, so outside of his initial struggles working as the low man on the totem pole in the fields, there’s no tenacity to the hustling, wheeling and dealing he employs to move up in this world. At least before he achieves a sliver of the status he’s after, the characters surrounding him feel interesting, with their colorful caricatures of working class steeliness and the film’s painfully overwrought dialogue. Sure, it’s laughable how idiom dependent and jargon heavy those early interactions are, but they’re a damn sight more engaging than the boilerplate soap operatics they give way to.

The performances are uniformly off-putting, if only because the cast doesn’t possess the collective charisma necessary to overcome such a rough script, but director Roberts shows intermittent flashes of visual inspiration. There are little moments along the way where he appears to have created the film he saw in his mind, when the oppressive sun feels as painful to behold as it must have felt for those field workers. But other sequences that experiment with cross-cutting wind up like bad music videos, implying uncomfortable sexual connotations between literally laying pipe and a woman orgasmically putting on make-up in one early scene.

The Iron Orchard has a decent enough premise and makes the best of its diminutive budget as far as production value is concerned, but there’s just nothing on display to matter beyond minor aesthetic achievement.

  • The Courier

    This well-trod ground just proves too difficult to freshen up, but if we as an audience wi…
  • Trust

    In every conceivable way, Trust looks and feels like a Lifetime original movie iteration o…
  • Oeuvre: David Cronenberg: A Dangerous Method

    The staid format of a historical costume drama makes the perfect space for some of Cronenb…
  • Criminally Underrated: Universal Soldier: Regeneration

    Today, you’ll likely find more competent action filmmaking among direct-to-video flicks th…
  • The Virtuoso

    It is extraordinarily difficult to follow this inane story toward its inevitable conclusio…
  • Cliff Walkers

    Imbued with neither the passion of his classic period dramas nor the vitality of his famou…

One Comment

  1. Shiny

    August 10, 2019 at 3:19 am

    Hey you author.. People dont give a fuck to this pile of shit posed as “review” of the movie. People who are in oil business and oil industry know what this movie is talking about about. Not addressed to low lives like you who just want petrol at gas stations with their windshield cleaned free of charge.
    so long… looser.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Courier

This well-trod ground just proves too difficult to freshen up, but if we as an audience wi…