Review: After the Austin Film Festival premiere, “The Iron Orchard” Hits Theaters

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B/C-

“The Iron Orchard” is an independently made film that is a long time in the making. Native Austinite Gerry de Leon is a screenwriter who in 2011 started adapting “The Iron Orchard,” along with director Ty Roberts, based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Tom Pendleton that was first published in 1966. The film started the festival circuit after filming in Big Spring, Midland and Austin, TX as well as in and near other cities in West Texas, including Gail, Snyder, Colorado City, Forsan, and Coahoma. By early November, at the end of the Austin Film Festival, “The Iron Orchard” was named a Hiscox Audience Award winner in the Texas Independent Feature category. Set in a time frame between the late 1930s and the next two decades, the story is about Texas oil and the life of a young man changed by it. As with any independently made film, that means there is no “Hollywood” budget to swim in and thus there are many limited resources available to the director, cast and crew. Despite the challenges or limitations the producers or crew may have had, this is an enjoyable film to watch with impressive performances by the actors for this story. The film may be viewed as just another “Texas oil” story that some individuals can try to dismiss, but as independent films go, this is one not to miss, especially for the cinematography by Mathieu Plainfosse (“Radium Girls” and several video shorts) and performance by the lead, Lane Garrison (“From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series,” “Crazy,” “Prison Break”) as Jim McNeely. There may be some similarities between the McNeely character and other men in the oilfields of Hollywood films that starred James Dean or Daniel Day-Lewis, but Garrison does very well with this role of a young man who may be down and out for a while, but is determined to make a better life for himself, risking it all among the big boys in Texas oil.

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De Leon and Robert’s script for “The Iron Orchard” features Jim (Garrison) doing hard, back breaking oil field work in the hot Texas sun for Bison Oil and this not his favorite way to get a sun tan. His previous grocery clerk job was not adequate to meet the expectations of his girlfriend’s parents, so Mazie (Hassie Harrison) is off limits. Despite the bullying from the veteran oil field workers and being told to stay away from the local married woman he is eyeing, Lee (Ali Cobrin), Jim pursues what he wants. It is not exactly clear why she is not happy as a housewife with a home and beautiful car, but it is not long after the long looks at each other at the local store that they pack their bags, leaving Bison Oil behind with the savings he has.

Jim and Lee are good together as they build their business and life together. Despite this, when they move back to the DFW area, Mazie, the man she married and her parents are all aware of Jim’s success. Of course, who do we find in attendance at the housewarming party ready to get their hands on his wealth? And Jim (in his stupidity) falls for the golddigger that Mazie has always has been and Lee packs her bags (again). Needless to say, Jim’s life is downhill in a big way after that and there is plenty of drama to show how.  

The film is successful with the period detail, from the costumes, to the vintage cars and trucks. Interestingly enough during the film’s final credits, there is found footage of a home movie added, of a gentleman and his family during the same timeframe in the oil fields as seen in “The Iron Orchard.”

The film is rated R and will be in Austin theaters as of March 1st (and check your local listings for show times at the AMC Barton Creek Square 14 and Regal Cinemas Arbor 8 at Great Hills).

Source: Santa Rita Film Co.

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