Starring: Keith Carradine, Rachael Leigh Cook, Lisa Ray, Graham Greene, Luke Kirby
Director: Leonard Farlinger
Mood: If you worship ’00s rom-coms and want to see how powerful women of that era stack up in a modern day Canadian horse movie.
When I spotted All Hat on IMDb, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Keith Carradine, Rachael Leigh Cook, Lisa Ray, Ernie Hudson, and Graham Greene… all in one Western?!
There was a good chance this was going to be really fantastic – or really f*cking awful. I was assuming the latter.
- It was made in Canada
- It’s more ranchers dabbling in horse racing than purebred Western
- It’s based on a novel by a bestselling author (not a bestselling novel)
- There’s a pouty guy taking up the front of the DVD
- The back lists the actors’ other credible works rather than the plot
- Oh, and it only earned $15,198 on a 5 million budget
I enjoy every single one of those actors, though, especially Keith Carradine. So I had to give it a shot.
All Hat is not awful. It does lack the thrilling pace, action, and budget of other modern made-in-the-USA Westerns. It’s also more about horse racing than ranching. But as a piece of Canadiana, it’s actually pretty good. Especially for horse girls – if you’re a Canadian horse girl, saddle up.
All Hat opens with Ray Dokes (Luke Kirby, the aforementioned pouty guy) getting out of jail. He’s picked up by his rancher friend, Pete Culpepper (Keith Carradine). It’s not clear what Ray did, but apparently we don’t spend time worrying about that.
Ray returns to his former Ontario community to learn that an entitled rich guy named Sonny Stanton (Noam Jenkins) is trying to buy up all the local farmland to build a golf course. Yeah, that’s a familiar and kind of tired plot point. HOWEVER. These ranchers all have a common interest: the racetrack.
Staton’s rich daddy owns a million-dollar thoroughbred. Pete has a strong horse too, but a foul on his hungover jockey (Rachael Leigh Cook) puts his horse on permanent vacation. Meanwhile, Ray’s former flame Etta is fighting to keep her family ranch from Stanton.
The only solution involves a series of horse thefts and horse races and switcheroos that could save the good guys – or land Ray back in jail.
I watched this movie for Keith Carradine, but one of my favourite performances was Rachael Leigh Cook as foul-mouthed jockey Chrissy Nugent.
Now, my love of Cook goes back to Josie and the Pussycats and She’s All That. I think she’s brilliant, and not just because in 2002 I got my hair cut and dyed exactly like Josie – a huge mistake if you can barely survive as a new adult let alone do your own hair every day. I still make people watch this amazing British movie she did, Blow Dry, starring Alan Rickman.
Anyway. Cook’s teen movies are the polar opposite of a Western, and honestly she’s one reason I thought All Hat could wind up being all hat, no cattle.
But the moment she stomped into the scene, I was obsessed. Chrissy is small, fierce, possibly still a bit drunk, and terrifying. Cook fully delivers this unquestionably badass jockey who can keep up with any man at fighting, drinking, riding horses, or boning in the barn. She’s part cowgirl and part jockey, and it’s all fascinating for anyone equestrian.
And then she gives you small moments of vulnerability that make you desperately want her backstory.
I fell for Lisa Ray in Bollywood Hollywood, and her turn as Etta is another wholly different performance that I enjoyed. She’s still gorgeous – you can’t dull a face like that. But in All Hat she somehow looks like an exhausted modern ranch girl. Her character is resilient and crunchy and worn out, which is exactly on-point from my personal experience.
David Alpay is also memorable as the ‘simple’ Paulie Stanton, a guy who’s good with animals but not so much with people. Although his part is small, you can’t help but form an emotional attachment to the sweet underdog of the Stanton clan.
Keith Carradine, Ernie Hudson, and Graham Green are all phenomenal actors. I love them dearly. But in All Hat they don’t get nearly enough screen time.
Carradine is in fine form as Pete. The voice, the brevity, the knowing looks – it’s all there. But there wasn’t really anywhere for him to go in this script, so it’s not at the depth of Dead Man’s Walk, or Monte Walsh, or Deadwood.
Ernie Hudson is solid and even commanding as Jackson Jones, but he’s almost the side of potatoes as the guy in charge of the rich peoples’ horses. It’s his hesitations about the redneck Stanton cousin that warn you of what’s to come, and his reaction to the final twist that lets you know a stunt was pulled, yet otherwise he’s left unexplored.
The same is extra true of Graham Greene as Jim Burns. Greene is basically Canadian Royalty, so to give him a handful of lines, none of the comedy, and a character who could have been removed without impacting the plot – that shit’s unforgivable. I live for Graham Greene, and this movie did him an injustice.
I will say that Noam Jenkins did a great job of the poor little rich boy, Sonny Stanton. Yes, there were times where his lines felt incredibly fake. But his character was also the ridiculous one in a movie about blue collar people. I appreciate that he went all in and made Sonny into a sort of satire.
The only weak performance is Luke Kirby, and I saved that for last because I wanted to note the strengths before acknowledging the ultimate undoing of this film.
If your lead is your weak link, you’re kind of f*cked. If this thing had a more powerful Canadian lead, like Hayden Christensen or Adam Beach, it could have been great. Kirby isn’t terrible, but he’s forgettable. And in a slower kind of movie, you need an evocative performer to keep us enthralled.
All Hat is a mixed bag of feed.
It isn’t a hilarious comedy, but it has some seriously funny moments that keep you hooked. It also doesn’t dive deep enough into the characters to feel like a drama, yet I did feel sad about the threats to farmland and the hardships of female jockeys.
It’s got lots of horse action and even some punchouts – so it’s not without its charms.
It’s mostly that very Canadian type of movie, like Canadian TV shows and fiction. You know the ones. You can absolutely tell that they’re homegrown Canadian content. Either you get what I’m saying or you don’t, and if you get it you’re obviously Canadian.
I would watch this movie again, and that’s saying something. I still live for the actors I went into it loving; none of them let me down. Is this the best Keith Carradine Western? Hardly. But should you watch it for Rachael Leigh Cook’s hardened jockey punching out assholes? Abso-f*cking-lutely.