Plenty of Northwest indie cred doesn’t stop “The Men of Dodge City” from being an endurance test. It doesn’t matter if it’s an exercise in this or an experiment in that. If a movie fails to engage the viewer with its characters and dialogue, how can it hope to convey whatever artistic intentions are held within its images?
That’s the downside to this debut feature by Nandan Rao, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts who was born and raised (and is still based) in Corvallis, Ore. Best known as a skillful cinematographer who works wonders with a digital SLR camera, it was Rao who shot 2010’s “Bummer Summer,” the microbudget indie directed by his friend and frequent collaborator, Zach Weintraub.
Their collaboration continues here with Weintraub as an actor, but the results aren’t nearly as satisfying. It’s not because Rao’s long takes and static compositions are tedious, necessarily; at times they recall the experimental films of James Benning, whose similarly long, static shots fill the viewer with an intense awareness of space and time.
At their best, Rao’s images serve a similar purpose, but where Benning’s images are typically devoid of people, Rao’s unmoving camera focuses on annoying, inarticulate 20-somethings who are almost totally devoid of interest. As they lazily turn a moldy, abandoned cathedral into a multipurpose art space, Ben (Ben Rickles), J. (Jesse Rudoy), Zach (Weintraub) and Sophia (Sophia Takal) emerge as the mumblecore product of aimless improvisation.