Review by Jacquelin Hipes
Based on the cult classic 1966 novel of the same name, Ty Roberts’ newest feature The Iron Orchard follows the life of Jim McNeely (Lane Garrison) as he works his way up from a lowly grunt in the oil fields of West Texas to a millionaire wildcatter. In love with the daughter of a wealthy family but of unsuitable social status himself, Jim receives their “help” in the form of a position in the pipe-laying gang on a lease near Odessa. There he endures physical and psychological torment, but rises above their petty antics to make friends and, eventually, run off with another man’s wife (Ali Cobrin) to start his own business servicing equipment.
Unfortunately, The Iron Orchard lacks the necessary grit to really sell itself as an epic tale of the early Texas oilfields. Garrison comes across as neither tough nor wily. Perhaps we’re meant to feel sympathy for McNeely as an outsider, yet the poor treatment from his presumed social betters or the burly men in the fields doesn’t seem to merit the enormous chip on his shoulder. One performer does distinguish themselves: as Jim’s wife Lee, Ali Cobrin brings some much-needed sincerity to the story and elevates any scene that includes her. Most disappointing of all is the absence of any Texas character, whatever that means to you, from the sluggishly paced proceedings. With little in the way of swagger, grit, or charm, The Iron Orchard falls short of capturing such a colorful and compelling chapter in Texas history.