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'Winter Light'

Raymond J. Barry stars as a college professor in “Winter Light,” a 30-minute Hollywood adaptation of James Lee Burke’s short story.

Provided photo

Roger, an aging English professor who lives on a remote canyon road, has taken so many ethical stands he's blockaded himself in.

On campus, he's unafraid to cast the lone, losing vote if he believes in it.

At home, the professor (stoically played by Raymond J. Barry) has found his combative but ethical demeanor has left him alone for Christmas, his daughter opting to stay elsewhere for the holiday.

And on one particular day, his refusal to let two hunters cross his property to hunt on national forest land leaves him barring the road and bracing for a fight.

This existential tale, based on a short story by local writer James Lee Burke, has been lovingly adapted into a short but potent 30-minute movie.

Los Angeles director Julian Higgins and cinematographer Andrew Wheeler filmed during the blizzard of late February 2014, which coated their Jocko Canyon locations with thick snow, adding to both the beauty and danger of many scenes, particularly toward the end when this revisionist Western builds toward a chase and a standoff.

The small cast is excellent, including Vincent Kartheiser and Josh Pence as the menacing hunters. Kartheiser, best known as the conniving yuppie ad man Pete Campbell on "Mad Men," grew a scraggly beard for the role. Dirt and evil suit him well. 

Shooting a Montana story in Montana isn't always a given – look at the HBO series on "Lewis and Clark" and "The Revenant," about frontier trapper Hugh Glass. In both of those projects, Canada acts a body double for the Big Sky landscape.

So it's to Higgins' credit that he brought his crew out to Montana, where they took full advantage of the scenery. A particularly tense scene uses the neon-red lights of Harold's Club in Milltown to create a hellish glow, and a trip to Accu-Arms is shot in such a way that you can feel the threat of violence increasing.

Screenwriter Wei-­Ning Yu made some changes to Burke's story, including that scene at the gun shop, which raises the tension inherent in Roger's plight. Will he uphold the life-affirming values he's stood by, or compromise and descend into violence like that people he despises?

The only complaint the film could stir, really, is its length.

Hopefully, it will stir interest and/funding for a full-length collaboration, something in which Burke has expressed interest.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.