Working the Texas Oil Fields

The oil fields of West Texas provide fertile creative ground for director Ty Roberts’ vibrant period drama about the harsh life of pioneering oil rig workers. Adapting the acclaimed novel by Tom Pendleton, The Iron Orchard stars a rejuvenated Lane Garrison, normally a character actor on television shows like Prison Break and Yellowstone, giving a career-defining performance as Jim McNeely, an oil man driven to become a successful businessman against all odds. It’s a rags-to-riches story told with explosive drama and gritty characters.

Superbly acted by a cast that perfectly fits the dusty 1939 Texas setting, The Iron Orchard stars Lane Garrison, Austin Nichols (The Walking Dead), Hassie Harrison, and Ali Cobrin. It’s not a well-known line-up but everyone is recognizable from various television projects – these are hungry character actors looking to make a name for themselves. The independent film is a real passion project for its talented cast and crew, reaching back into the history of Texas for an engaging, character-driven epic.

Jim McNeely (Lane Garrison) is driven from an early age to overcome his meager background and succeed in the rough ‘n tumble oil business. Rebuffed by his high school sweetheart’s high society parents as a suitable fit for their daughter, McNeely becomes a hard-working and ambitious man working the oil fields of West Texas for the Bison Oil company.

Iron Orchard is intelligently put together with a strong cast and engagingly written characters

The young man slowly works his way through their ranks from lowly field worker to ultimately owning his own drilling rig. It’s not a perfectly smooth journey as mistakes are made by McNeely, reminding him where he comes from. Along the way he’ll meet friends like Dent Paxton (Austin Nichols) and a woman that will play a large role in his life, Lee Montgomery (Ali Cobrin). They get dragged along in Jim’s surprising ride up the oil business.

From confronting his much larger crew boss to the businessmen that run Texas oil, McNeely is a fearless soul that doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. It is a stubbornness that fuels Jim’s rise up the oil industry but eventually catches up to him when his luck runs out. The measured drama details McNeely’s rise and fall, including his attempts after making it at pandering to the same high society people that once rejected him.

There’s always a fine balance in The Iron Orchard between McNeely’s ruthless ambitions as an oil man and his turbulent personal life. Times are happy for Jim and his wife on the way up, only for that happiness to get shattered when his oil wells start drying up. That creates a rich storytelling engine for McNeely’s arc and personal story.

The Iron Orchard has been intelligently put together with a strong cast and engagingly written characters. The movie personifies the grit and wild determination it took to succeed in the Texas oil business in the 1930s. Lane Garrison delivers a compelling and authentic lead performance, but really the entire cast comes together in perfect harmony. It’s a portrayal of a complex individual that hits all the right notes.

Ty Roberts has crafted a smoothly-told drama which perfectly captures its subject with creative vision. The Iron Orchard is quality filmmaking told with passion and honesty. Having picked up some buzz back in 2018 on the indie festival circuit, it deserves an audience on home video.

Video

The Iron Orchard has somewhat inconsistent picture quality for a new 2018 film. The Blu-ray transfer has been taken from the digital intermediate with adequate definition. The digitally graded color aims for a retro period feel, beginning with an opening steeped in sepia that slowly fills in more color.

Presented in the movie’s native 2.35:1 aspect ratio at 1080P resolution, fine detail is average. This is not cinematography looking for the most razor-sharp HD experience.

The main feature runs 111 minutes, encoded in AVC. Some banding is evident, though the over-blown highlights and minor aliasing spotted in a couple scenes are more distracting. Most would call The Iron Orchard a serviceable-looking drama. The indie budget does creep into the picture quality’s limitations, but otherwise is okay by Blu-ray standards.

Audio

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack offers an adequate surround experience considering this is a period drama. The sparse instrumental score opens up the soundstage, aided by a few choice country hits from Bob Wills and Porter Wagoner, among others. Dialogue is intelligently placed in the mix, balanced with the bigger sound elements. There are no distracting audio issues and the mix has been decently mastered without serious limiting.

Optional English SDH subtitles are included but a word of caution for those viewers that need them. Something has been authored incorrectly and the subs occasionally dissolve, missing entire dialogue exchanges. When they do work, they appear in a white font always inside the scope presentation.

Extras

Independently released and distributed, The Iron Orchard arrives on BD-R with silk-screened artwork and normal Blu-ray packaging. There isn’t much here beyond the commentary, but it’s an enjoyable one worth hearing after watching the movie.

Director/Actor Commentary – Director Ty Roberts and actor Lane Garrison are Texas boys at heart and this joint commentary is a fun listen as they discuss their passion project together.

The Iron Orchard Trailer (01:47 in HD)

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The Iron Orchard
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5

Movie

The smoothly crafted period drama about working the Texas oil fields in the 1930s has a staggering lead performance and engaging storytelling.

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4 (1 vote)

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