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Butcher's Crossing - What We Know So Far

Fans of both survival movies and Westerns that attempt to explore the harsh reality behind the mythology of the "American West" received some excellent news this year, when it was announced that Gabe Polsky ("Red Army") would be directing and co-writing a big screen adaptation of author John Williams' 1967 frontier novel, "Butcher's Crossing" (via Variety). Since Williams' novel is far from your typical glimpse into late nineteenth century North America (think more Cormac McCarthy, and less Sergio Leone) the film promises to be a brutalist blend of an oft-glorified but extremely ugly chapter in U.S. history, and man's capacity to survive against the awesome power of nature and isolation. 

"Butcher's Crossing" reunites Polsky with his "Red Army" co-executive producer, Liam Satre-Meloy, who'll write the screenplay alongside the director. Deadline reports that "Polsky and Phiphen Pictures' Molly Conners will produce alongside Will Clarke and Andy Mayson for Altitude Film Entertainment and Cage's Saturn Films." So, now that the behind-the-scenes ducks are all in a row, when can we expect to see this anticipated adaptation? 

What is the release date of Butcher's Crossing?

Variety announced recently that Saban Films ("Under the Stadium Lights") has officially acquired the movie, in a deal that will cover distribution rights in "North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavia" (Altitude will handle UK and Irish distribution). Although an official release date has yet to be announced, "Butcher's Crossing" is slated to begin shooting in the U.S. this upcoming October (via Deadline). 

Considering the narrative's 19th-century North American frontier setting — and the fact that buffalo will need to be involved — it's likely the film will require some serious on-location shooting. The title of Williams' groundbreaking novel refers to an ominously named town (Butcher's Crossing) in Kansas, and squeezing all those wide-open spaces into a studio in southern California seems highly unlikely. Hollywood's latest sneaky semi-Western epic, "Pig," began shooting in the fall of 2019, and was released in the summer of 2021. If its timeline is any sort of litmus test, fans could potentially expect to see "Butcher's Crossing" as early as next winter, though an early-to-mid 2023 release seems a stronger possibility. 

Who is in the cast of Butcher's Crossing?

Speaking of "Pig," fresh off the success of director Michael Sarnoski's rumored Oscar contender, Nicolas Cage has landed yet another intriguingly off-beat role with "Butcher's Crossing." The timing makes sense. On starring in "Pig," Cage told Vanity Fair that he saw the film as an opportunity to remind both himself and "the folks in the critical universe" that smaller, quieter dramas are "another one of (his) paintbrushes." The reminder must have worked, because director Gabe Polsky calls Cage "one of the most dynamic and interesting performers," noting that "to have him take on this brilliant role will be exciting" (via Variety). 

Cage will play experienced buffalo hunter, Miller. 

As of this writing, Cage is the only actor to be officially named on the project, and yet, this 2017 BUILD series interview with Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways," "Wings") suggests the actor and director may still be attached to the film. In the interview, Church talks at-length about Williams' novel, and its poignant de-romanticization of late eighteen hundreds America. 

Currently, no outlet has released any official statements naming Church as a part of the "Butcher's Crossing" cast, but he'd certainly have no problem slipping into the role of the novel's gritty frontiersman Charley Hoge, or even that of the trader and financier J.D. McDonald. 

What is the plot of Butcher's Crossing?

While it's too soon to definitively say if Gabe Polsky's adaptation of Williams' novel will be completely faithful to its source, the current "Butcher's Crossing" synopsis suggests that's the case. Variety reports that the new movie is "set in the 1870s, and finds Cage's character taking on a young Harvard dropout, who is seeking his destiny in the Colorado wilderness. Together, they embark on a harrowing journey risking life and sanity." 

Per Goodreads, "Butcher's Crossing" follows a young, East Coast academic named William Andrews, who, "fired up by Emerson to seek 'an original relation to nature,' drops out of Harvard and heads west." After finding himself in the small town of Butcher's Crossing, Will meets a veteran frontiersman who convinces him to go on a hunt for buffalo in the previously untapped territory of Colorado. At first, the men find themselves caught up feverishly in the so-called thrill of kill, but as winter sets in — and with it, a brutal reality that tests the men's wills — the world around them grows increasingly dark. After being snowed-in for the entirety of winter, the desperate group emerges the following spring "half-insane with cabin fever, cold, and hunger,"  before eventually making their way back to Butcher's Crossing, where they "find a world as irremediably changed as they have been."

On the surface, "Butcher's Crossing" sounds like a blend of Western adventure and a good old fashioned man vs. nature survival story. Thematically, however, Williams' novel seeks to pit starry-eyed Transcendentalism against a harsh Realism, culminating in a battle that the experienced Cage has proven himself more than capable of slowly teasing out.