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Farlinger's 'All Hat' Not Your Traditional Western

Leonard Farlinger is hard-pressed to name the genre of his film All Hat, premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival next week.

“It’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s a contemporary Western but it’s also a noir film and a romance,” the Canadian director admits.

Based on a novel by Brad Smith, who also wrote the screenplay, All Hat’s unlikely hero is ex-convict Ray Dokes (Luke Kirby) who returns to his rural hometown and finds its inhabitants struggling against the will of devious developer Sonny Stanton (Noam Jenkins). Dokes wants to reconnect with his ex ( Water‘s Lisa Ray) but it’s near impossible as he deals with nemesis Stanton and a hot-tempered jockey (Rachael Leigh Cook) who’s racing his friend’s prize thoroughbred.

Featuring a notable cast including Cook, Keith Carradine, Graham Greene and Ernie Hudson, Farlinger notes the racehorses were far trickier to work with than the stars.

“They’re feisty, they’re not the easiest to direct,” he says.

“It’s one thing to imagine what the race has to be, but to actually shoot it (is challenging). We shot with real thoroughbreds because we wanted to feel the speed. Then we had to go with the motorcycle camera in for some horses, we couldn’t do it with other horses because thoroughbreds are notoriously skittish. It was crazy but at the same time it was cool to be right there really feeling the horses. There was a kind of texture to being that close to them.”

As for the human stars, Farlinger knew immediately that Kirby was right for the lead on account of his “Paul Newman-esque” quality. Jenkins won the bad-guy role after two reads, which the director says stuck in his mind. As for Cooke, all it took was an email.

“Rachael’s such a fireball, she’s got such attitude anyways as a person,” he says. “At the same time she’s downright sexy. I sent (the script) to her and said, ‘You really are this person.’ She emailed me back and said, ‘You’re right, this is totally me.'”

All Hat presumably takes its title from the Texas-based expression “All hat, no cattle,” meaning someone who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. It’s obvious Farlinger, whose family farmed in Morrisburg, Ontario, feels close to the subject matter and the concept of suburban encroachment on rural regions.

“It’s about this group of people that kind of come together as a family, who shouldn’t necessarily be coming together, and they find a way to defend that way of life. It’s a feel-good film, from that point of view.”

Posted by Suzanne Ellis

(Photo: A scene from Leonard Farlinger’s All Hat)

All Hat public screenings at TIFF07:

Tues. Sept. 11, 6pm
Isabel Bader Theatre

Thurs. Sept. 13, 12:45pm
Varsity 2