Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke in 'Strange Way of Life' (2023)
Sony Pictures Classics

'Strange Way of Life' Review: Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke Star in Campy, Colorful Queer Western

A desert town, a standoff and forbidden love.

Strange Way of Life, now in theaters, is Pedro Almodóvar's answer to Brokeback Mountain. The legendary Spanish director nearly helmed the 2005 gay cowboy romance, but departed when it became clear that his picture of male desire wouldn't fly in a big studio movie. Now, he brings Emmy nominee Pedro Pascal and four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke together for a 31-minute short film with all the trappings of the Western genre — and then some.

Hawke plays Jake, the lone sheriff of a town called Bitter Creek. His brother's widow has been murdered, and he's certain he knows who the culprit is. That's when his former flame Silva, played by Pascal, rides into town. They had an intense two-month romance in their youth, but they've been separated by a vast expanse of desert ever since. After a warm reunion, the pair find themselves on opposite sides of the law.

Both Pascal and Hawke are well-versed in cowboy fare. The Last of Us star has played a gunslinging bounty hunter in Star Wars' The Mandalorian since 2019. Pascal puts those action chops to good use in a tense standoff here. For his part, Hawke injects some quiet sensitivity into Sheriff Jake. The character is vastly different from his previous Wild West figures in films like The Kid (2019) and The Magnificent Seven (2016).

Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke in 'Strange Way of Life' (2023)

Sony Pictures Classics

Visually, Strange Way of Life puts a pop spin on classic Western fare. It was filmed in Spain's Almería desert region, which served as the backdrop for countless '60s spaghetti Westerns, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The dusty towns and scorched vistas are familiar.

But, much like the 2022 Emily Blunt Western miniseries The English, Strange Way of Life hits you with ultra-saturated pops of color in nearly every scene. Pascal's Kelly green jacket (courtesy of Yves Saint Laurent, which also produced the film) and the occasional ruby red tablecloth make the period drama feel alive and artificial.

The film is highly stylized and purposely anachronistic — nothing like the earnest melodrama of Brokeback Mountain. There are plastic buttons and frenzied cuts to Jake and Silva's former passions. It all goes by too quickly to amount to much more than a snapshot of alternative masculinity on the frontier, but what a gorgeous snapshot it is.

Strange Way of Life is now in theaters.

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