Showing posts with label Western. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Western. Show all posts

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Bend of the River




Bend of the River is a serviceable 1952 James Stewart Western. Directed by Anthony Mann, Stewart plays Glyn McLyntock, a remorseful ex border raider who is leading a band of settlers from Missouri to Oregon. Following a treacherous journey and a brief stop in the quiet town of Portland, the group reach their isolated destination but when their much needed supplies don’t arrive, McLyntock journeys back to the town to find it very changed. The film features themes of redemption, trust and romance and while it held me attention for its 91 minutes, it’s far from a classic and not quite as good as Mann and Stewart’s 1950 collaboration, Winchester ’73.

Many of the landscapes and sets become interchangeable and the film manages to deceive the viewer by switching between location and studio shots. The on location shooting is back dropped by beautiful vistas and unspoiled landscapes. This is certainly a good looking film and the beauty is exaggerated by the vibrant Technicolor. The costume design is also very good and I enjoyed the first visit to the tiny settlement of Portland, a mere dot on the map compared to the large city it has become. The difference between McLyntock’s first and second visit is also well done if not a little over done.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Easy Rider



I’ve watched a lot of great films for the first time this year and an echelon below Citizen Kane and Man with a Movie Camera is a film like Easy Rider. Written by actors Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and directed by Hopper it’s a motorcycle road movie about two long haired guys travelling across America, encountering intolerance and hatred. Released in 1969 against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, the film chooses to focus on intolerance against the freedom loving hippie movement of the same era but its central characters can be used to denote any group or people that experienced hate and intolerance.

Produced independently and with a budget of around $360,000, the film went on to become a huge mainstream success, creating enormous profits and winning Hopper an award at the Cannes Film Festival. It has since become a classic and a film that opened my eyes to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s, a movement that has traditionally been overlooked by mainstream media. Dennis Hopper said about Easy Rider that the films that were being made at the time weren’t about the America that he saw and he knew and this film is just that. It’s about the America of the youth, the hair, the drugs, the ideals, the freedom and the hatred.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Lone Ranger



Something is happening in Hollywood. Something which isn’t new but is becoming more apparent with each passing year. Studios are throwing vast sums of money at films in the hope that the sheer amount of razzmatazz on screen, couple with stars and overblown effects will prize people from their sofas and towards the cinema. The problem with this is that the films are becoming ever more formulaic and uninspiring as studios attempt to attract the maximum number of people to their films. It’s the same with most art forms that the more broad you make your product, the less exciting and unique it will be. Mumford and Sons might outsell Goat but only one of those bands sound like a Saturday night pub band that got too big for their cowboy boots. When I think of the studios that are producing the type of big budget, low risk films I’m discussing here, the one that springs to mind first is Disney.

Disney obviously have a tradition of making family movies and as such you aren’t expecting gore or thrilling twists but they’ve managed to entertain generations of people simultaneously for decades while maintaining their wholesome image. They also have a strong tradition of borrowing stories from other sources but appear to be on a run at the moment of producing the blandest of films which are amongst the most expensive in history. Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful, John Carter and now The Lone Ranger are all films which make use of established, much loved characters in films which Disney have sucked all the life and fun out of. The problem they’re really facing though is that they’re no longer guaranteed $600 million if they plough $250 million into a movie and not only that, the films themselves are dull and don’t even warrant a second viewing.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Blazing Saddles



Blazing Saddles is a 1974 satirical Western-Comedy written and directed by Mel Brooks. One of Brooks’ many parody films, Blazing Saddles was a huge box office hit, becoming only the tenth film in history to pass the $100 million mark upon its release. It opened to mixed reviews but is now generally regarded as a classic. The film takes place in the Old West in 1874 where the peaceful town of Rock Ridge is under siege from a crocked State Attorney General (Harvey Korman) who wants to clear the town in order to build his new railroad through it. The local townsfolk decide to send for a Sheriff and the Governor (who is under the control of the Attorney General) sends a black man (Cleavon Little) in the hope that his presence in the little, all while town will send the residents fleeing faster than any gun slinging cowboy could.

Like most people, I have seen Blazing Saddles before. It’s one of those films that you’ve probably seen bits of, even if you’ve never heard of it. The beans scene for instance will be instantly recognisable to everyone. The one and only time that I saw the film before today was probably about fifteen years ago, before my voice (and other things) had dropped. I remember laughing a lot at the film and thought I was well over due a second watch. Disappointingly I didn’t laugh much this time. I chuckled occasionally and liked the whole idea of the film but much of the humour either went over my head or under my nose.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Destry Rides Again



This 1939 Western is one of several produced around the Destry character of the 1932 novel. This version is only loosely based on the novel though, with many characters and events differing significantly. In the fictional Western town of Bottleneck, saloon owner Kent (Brian Donlevy) reigns supreme. With the help of saloon singer Frenchie (Marlene Dietrich) the town is under his control through fear, intimidation and extortion. A series of Sheriffs come and go with the latest being shot by Kent himself. In order to avoid the unwanted attention of the law, Kent and his Mayor (Samuel S. Hinds) give the job to one of the town’s many drunks, Washington Dimsdale (Charlie Winniger). ‘Wash’ surprises the town though by cleaning up his act and hiring a new Deputy from Montana. The son of a once feared lawman, Destry (James Stewart) turns out to be a disappointment. Against guns and seeming a bit of a wimp, Destry hides behind his polite exterior, a man willing to uphold the law, whatever it takes.

Destry Rides Again pulled me in two directions. Occasionally I thought the film was far too broad and frothy, full of poor jokes and songs but every now and then it surprised me with a cutting line, wonderful metaphor or ferocious fight which gave me the impression of watching two films accidently cut together as one.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Cimarron



In the rush to claim newly opened lands in the Oklahoma Territory, a man takes his Upper Middle Class wife Sabra (Irene Dunn) to the barren prairie to claim his piece of the wilderness. That man is Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix), a polymath with dreams of opening a newspaper in the burgeoning boom town of Osage. As the town thrives, Yancey becomes a local hero and leader but his itchy feet urge him to move on and his adventures out of town leave his wife to fend for herself in the dangerous South West while running his newspaper and raising their children in his absence.

Cimarron won the 1931 Academy Award for Outstanding Production (subsequently renamed Best Picture) and was the first movie to be nominated for seven Oscars as well as the first to be nominated for the ‘Big Five’. In addition to its critical reception, the movie was also RKO’s most expensive picture to date and would remain so for close to a decade. The expense, coupled with the Great Depression meant that the film produced a loss for the studio and didn’t recoup its budget until a re-release several years after its initial release. Despite the large budget and critical success I thought Cimarron was a slightly messy and uninspiring film which left me bored for most of its two hour run time.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Shenandoah



Shenandoah is a late period James Stewart Western set against a back drop of the Civil War. Charlie Anderson (Stewart) is the patriarch of a large Virginian family whose sons he is desperately trying to keep out of the war. Anderson is fiercely independent and although against slavery is equally against war in any form. As such his farm is caught in a no man’s land of peace, surrounded on all four sides by the sounds and smells of war. As the war begins encroaching on his farm and on his family he battles hard to remain neutral but when his youngest son is mistakenly taken as a prisoner of war by the North he is forced to act and sets out with his other sons to bring his youngest home.

It took me a while to get into Shenandoah but by the end it was the closest I’d come to crying in a film since I last saw Schindler’s List. The film’s final act is incredibly emotional and without going into spoiler territory, shares some similarities with the plot of Saving Private Ryan. I was moved by Anderson’s steadfast attitude but change of heart when someone he loved was affected and Stewart is sublime in the lead role.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Winchester '73



Winchester ’73 was the first in a string of successful Westerns to be directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart. Stewart, who was worried about his career following a number of post war flops, decided he needed to branch out as an actor and jumped at the role of Lin McAdam in this story of one man’s search for his gun. Audiences were initially surprised at the casting but Stewart went on to have a successful career in Westerns alongside the dramas and thrillers for which he is better known. McAdam (Stewart) enters Dodge City with his friend High Spade (Millard Mitchell) on the eve of a Centenary Rifle Shoot Competition. His main rival for a once in a lifetime prize of a priceless Winchester ’73 rifle is the outlaw ‘Dutch Henry’ Brown (Stephen McNally) and it soon becomes obvious that the two have history. McAdam wins the rifle but it’s stolen by Dutch and passes through several hands before the two can square off again to decide once and for all who should own the precious gun.

With a plot that goes back and forth from interesting to really boring and some incredibly clich├ęd and reductive dialogue, Winchester ’73 runs the risk of being just another Western. The poor generalising of Native Americans and stereotypical female character only chalks up marks in its negative column but there is something about the movie which gives it a spark. I personally think that spark is the gun. I have no interest in firearms and have never held a real one, let alone shot one but the film turns the gun into something else. It isn’t a gun, it’s a symbol. It’s a symbol of masculinity, success and triumph and every male character in the movie wants it.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Tombstone



A friend at work recently watched a film and since doing so has been repeating the phrase “I have two guns, one for each of you” over, and over again in a terrible American accent. The film in question is Tombstone, a 1993 Western starring Kurt Russell and office favourite Val ‘the chameleon’ Kilmer. It was lent to me recently by my quoting friend and I watched it this evening. I’ll be honest early on. I’ve never had much time for Westerns and rarely seek them out but I do enjoy a really good one. I also don’t particularly enjoy Val Kilmer on screen (though don’t tell my colleagues). With these facts in mind I wasn’t expecting to get much from Tombstone but I really enjoyed it, thanks largely to a fun, if slightly formulaic script and a fantastic, over the top performance from Val Kilmer.

Tombstone feels very much like a classic Western and looks older than Unforgiven, the Oscar winning movie which is younger by eighteen months. The premature aging doesn’t work against the film but merely gives it a gravitas that I’d associate with a classic Western of the late forties to mid sixties period. Even the plot feels well trodden. Three brothers, one of whom is a former lawman (Kurt Russell) relocate to Tombstone, Arizona with their families in the hope of earning their fortune. It soon becomes clear that the local law is defenceless against a large gang of outlaws who call themselves The Cowboys. Slowly the brothers and their friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) begin to rid Tombstone of the gang but at a high cost of human life.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Django Unchained



After years of threatening to do so, Quentin Tarantino has finally made his Western, or Southern as he would have it known. Django Unchained takes place in 1858 in Texas and its surrounding states. On the eve of the Civil War and with slavery still thriving in the South, a German Dentist called Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz) comes across a slave he has been looking for called Django (Jamie Foxx). Shultz, a Dentist turned bounty hunter frees Django on the promise that the former slave will help him track down three overseers who Django can recognise. Once the men are dead and Shultz has his bounty, he promises Django $75 dollars and a horse but decides to further help the man when he discovers that his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) has been cruelly separated from her husband and sold to the wicked Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio).

As with any Tarantino film there have been moths of anticipation for the release of Django Unchained and the fact that it received five Oscar nominations and two Golden Globe wins before it was even released in the UK further heightened my excitement for its arrival. In the end the film doesn’t disappoint. It is a fantastic mix of drama, comedy, cruelty and violence and features a typically excellent screenplay and some terrific performances but a plodding finale and long run time stop it from in my eyes joining the likes of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction at the top of the Director’s cannon.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

No Country for Old Men



A film that is difficult to place into just one particular genre, 2007s No Country for Old Men saw the Coen brothers win their first and perhaps long overdue Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. In a year for which its main rival was the equally nihilistic and violent There Will Be Blood the Coen’s film won a total of four Oscars and three BAFTAS. Set in the West Texas desert in the early 1980s the film is based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy and tells the story of a man (Josh Brolin) who chances upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong and finds $2 million just waiting to be taken. He is chased by the vicious and merciless hit man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who is hired to get the money back. Both are in turn hunted down by local Sheriff Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who despite in being way over his head maintains a calm exterior in the face of the task in front of him. No Country for Old Men is the sort of film that I’d be happy to watch every five years or so but wouldn’t want to see it any more often than that. It is a supremely made movie which features some stunning performances and an interesting story but I found myself drifting more and more as it went on.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Meek's Cutoff

In 1845 a small band of settlers travel across the Oregon Desert under the guidance of Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood). What was meant to be a two week journey is stretched to five as the group begin to wonder if Meek actually knows the way. With food and water scarce and tensions running high, the settlers’ chance upon a local native, capture him and attempt to get him to lead them to water. Will they find it? Will he actually lead them to it? And, will they ever make it across the desert?

I’ve become quite a fan of modern Westerns recently and have really enjoyed the likes of The Assassination of Jesse James, There Will Be Blood and True Grit amongst others. Meek’s Cutoff shares little with those films though other than its time in history and genre. This is a film about the isolation of the old west and the physical and mental pain that one must go through in order to continue the expansion west. Unlike most other Westerns, this is also told from mostly the female perspective.


Friday, 13 July 2012

His Regeneration

A tough criminal gets in to an argument in a dancehall which escalates into a fight. When the criminal is shot he is aided by a mysterious woman and recovers. Once he recovers he burgles a house but gets a surprise which puts an end to his criminal path.

This is a bit of an oddity amongst my Charlie Chaplin – Essanay box set in that it isn’t a Chaplin film at all. Instead Chaplin has a credit as ‘slightly assisted by’ and has a very brief cameo in front of the camera too. The film was actually directed, written and starred in by Chaplin’s boss and co-head of Essanay Gilbert M. Anderson (Broncho Billy).

For a Charlie Chaplin fan this is one to ignore as Chaplin is on screen for all of thirty seconds. He tries to push his way to the front of a queue, is sent back and then gets pushed around when people start dancing. The film itself is forgettable and features a confusing and slightly dull storyline. Its saving grace though is its acting which feels remarkably real and natural compared to Chaplin’s regular cast. It is this that saves it from the depths of being a one star movie.    

3/10

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Proposition

"Ah Australia. What fresh hell is this?"

After a gang commits a horrific crime in 1880s Australia, local Police Captain (Ray Winstone) offers to spare the lives of two Burns’ brothers if one of them, Charlie (Guy Pearce) kills their older brother Arthur (Danny Huston) who was responsible for the crime. As the youngest brother (Richard Wilson) rots in jail with his execution looming, Charlie has just nine days to track down Arthur and bring his body to the Captain.

The film’s opening titles show original photos mixed with stills from the set which are made to look aged. This is a nice little touch which helps to create the period setting. The look and feel of late Victorian Australia is captured wonderfully with a mixture of fantastic sets, costumes and locations. There is a fabulous juxtaposition between the Captain’s little bubble and the rest of the film’s locations. He often remarks that “I will tame this land” and his house, garden and wife look as though they have been neatly dropped from a London suburb. Outside of this however the land is sweaty, dusty and grim. People are unwashed and clothes are stained brown and torn.


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Cowboys & Aliens

Its 1873 and a man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert of the Arizona Territory with a strange metal bracelet on his wrist. He doesn’t know who or where he is and is soon attacked by a posse of outlaws. After disposing of his attackers he rides to Absolution where he is again set upon and ends up in Jail. While being transported to another facility, the entire town is attacked from the air by unidentified crafts. It transpires that Absolution is under attack by aliens who are abducting the townsfolk and the man along with local rich man Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), bar owner Doc (Sam Rockwell) and a mysterious woman called Ella (Olivia Wilde) set out to track the aliens and save the towns people.

There was a lot said at the time the film was released that it was a ridiculous idea to have cowboys battling aliens but to me it is no more ridiculous than having an alien film set in the modern day and is a refreshing take on the genre. The Western sets and costumes look great and most of the cast fit the bill of Wild West inhabitants. The only person who doesn’t is Olivia Wilde who looks completely out of place with salon shaped eyebrows and GHD straightened hair. While Craig and Ford et al look the part in their costumes, her tight and clingy dress doesn’t look right either. I think her look was misjudged in an obvious attempt to attract a teenage male audience.


Jon Favreau’s direction is fine and he balances the fast paced sci-fi action with the slower western style of wide open vistas and gruff dialogue. The aliens are also well designed and look scary in enclosed spaces. When out in the open they lose their menace slightly but still look good.

I thought that the acting was also fine. Daniel Craig produces a convincing accent and suits the role. Harrison Ford is also good and seems well suited to the role he is playing. Sam Rockwell is under used and Olivia Wilde does well in her few scenes in which she has to act. The supporting cast is excellent and helps to fill out the Old West world that the film creates.


So far I’ve had few complaints but my main problem with the film is that it’s really dull. There are aliens - Fighting cowboys - With lasers and stuff! But I felt really bored for most of the film and I was only really interested in finding out about how Daniel Craig came to be in the desert with a metal thing on his arm. I’m very surprised that the film wasn’t more exciting and it doesn’t live up to its title. Another problem was that the script made the action far too predictable. It is obvious for instance that Sam Rockwell’s inability to shoot will turn around and he will save someone. It is also obvious that Harrison Ford will admit to liking the Indian boy he bought up but seems to dislike. Also, there is a rather obvious mention of dynamite which comes back towards the end. The script is full of this sort of thing and everything is laid out in giant capital letters with few surprises or twists.

The film could learn something from Snakes on a Plane which is much more enjoyable. The film is played completely straight and I think it would have benefited from a bit of camp or even just a bit more comedy.

Overall the film has a really interesting idea at its centre and is well acted by a solid cast but doesn’t live up to its premise and takes itself too seriously.

6/10

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Tommy Lee Jones’ Directorial debut is a modern day Western set in Texas and Northern Mexico and is about the death of Mexican cowboy Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo). Before his death he made his friend Pete (Tommy Lee Jones) promise to bury him in his small town of birth, Jimenez, across the border in Mexico. Pete kidnaps the boarder patrolman Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) who shot Estrada and the two of them set out in search of Jimenez.  

One of the films strengths is that it sometimes shows the same incident from two different character’s perspectives which help the audience to decide who they believe is in the right or wrong or build up a better understanding of proceedings. This however helps to add to one of the films downfalls which is the non-linear way the plot unfolds in the first act. I found myself confused for the first half an hour or so until I worked out who everyone was and what their place in the movie was. Once I’d figured out who everyone was, I then had trouble understanding what anyone was saying. The Spanish dialogue is subtitled but I could have done with subtitles for the mumbled Texan accents that were prevalent. At times I honestly had no idea what was being said.

The story is kind of interesting but I didn’t have enough love for Tommy Lee Jones or Julio Cedillo’s characters to really care either way and Barry Pepper’s Mike Norton is made out to be quite a nasty character so I certainly didn’t care what happened to him. His partial redemption towards the end wasn’t enough for me. I think that there was another film in there, based on the relationship between Barry Pepper and his wife January Jones. The acting on the whole was very good. Tommy Lee Jones as usual was great and Barry Pepper showed greater range than I’d witnessed from him before. Even January Jones was acceptable, the best I’ve seen from her too. Melissa Leo stood out but her role was very small.


Tommy Lee Jones gave me no reason to think that he couldn’t or shouldn’t direct again but there was no wow factor. He manages to get good performances however and the locations are pretty. The film in general is fine but I wasn’t very interested in the plot.  

6/10

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Good, The Bad, The Weird


Set in 1930s Manchuria, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a Korean Western about three men and a map. The film focuses on the three men’s rivalry as they try to keep the map for themselves and reach the treasure that the map points to while being pursued by the Japanese army and Chinese bandits. The three main characters are a bounty hunter known as The Good (Jung Woo-sung), The Bad (Lee Byung-hun), a no nonsense killer and The Weird (Song Kang-ho The Host, Thirst) who is a train robber.


The film features everything you’d want from a Western with great scenery, stand-offs, a train robbery and great action throughout. The fact that it is set in Asia makes little difference as it is a true Western. The directorial style of Kim Ji-woon is visually appealing and reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino. There is plenty of detailed stylization but it is not overdone and it helps to immerse the audience in the film. You feel very much as though you are part of the action thanks to the skill of Kim. The film features the odd twist and a mixture of serious Western dialogue and more funny dialogue from The Weird. The cinematography is wonderful with plenty of panoramic vistas, fast cut editing and unique camera movements. The costume design is also excellent. The Bad wears a modern, dark suit which together with his straight, dark hair and piercing eyes help him to seem nastier. The Good wears a traditional Western gunslingers outfit but The Weird, given his name, wears flying hat and goggles, paper gloves and traditional Korean dress. Each costume matches the character well.


The film is at its best during the more action packed sequences. They are without exception very well choreographed and acted and the film’s main set piece in a thieves market is superb and reminded me of a more light hearted 13 Assassins. It is not so successful in the more quiet moments but I think that is more of a testament to the action rather than a criticism of the less action packed scenes. While the film doesn’t have anywhere near the level of tension as Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on which it’s loosely based, the final Mexican Standoff was excellent and bought the film to a satisfying close. On the downside, the story is noticeably lacking and back story mostly non existent but had the plot been thicker I doubt the film would have been improved much as it is the action that draws the audience in.


The acting is outstanding, especially from the main cast. Jung’s Good and Lee’s Bad are similar in many ways and both actors bring a quiet, determined and cold-hearted feeling to their characters but the Bad is much more unsympathetic. Lee performs the role of the villain superbly. Song is excellent as The Weird, a man who seems unfit for the life he leads but somehow gets through every scrape unhurt. He brings a lot of humour to the role but is no slouch when the action starts. Though the acting is great, this is definitely director Kim Ji-woon’s film. He stamps his mark all over the proceedings and delivers an action packed and funny Western to rival anything from Hollywood.  

8/10

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Great Train Robbery


The Great Train Robbery is a terrible film, but I urge you to watch it. For a start it is only nine minutes long and can be watched for free here. But you should really watch it because of its historical significance.

Released in 1903, the film had a number of technical innovations which had barely been seen before. An example of this is the cross-cut. This is an editing technique which cuts between two scenes to show that they are happening simultaneously. This of course is industry standard now but The Great Train Robbery was one of the first films ever to use it. Moreover it used Double Exposure, something also new to film. The most striking thing about the film however is its use of a close up. The last scene features a close up of a cowboy, shooting a pistol at the audience. I can imagine how unsettling this would have been to a 1903 audience and is still a well known scene today. The film is also generally regarded as the first ever film with a complete narrative and thus making it the precursor of all narrative cinema.


The films innovative and famous ending

The basic plot of the film is that of a train robbery. After committing the robbery, the thieves are hunted down and shot by either locals or the sheriff, it is difficult to tell.

The acting is comical. The film is mostly overacted, possibly due to the actor’s lack of experience with film. People also fall down dead after being shot from guns pointing in completely the wrong direction and die with their arms and legs spread in a very unconvincing way. I think this can all be excused however, it was 1903 after all.

4/10

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood directs, produces and stars in this 1992 Western which won four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. While I personally don’t think it is a great film it is certainly a good film. Eastwood plays William Munny, an ex gunslinger who has put his past behind him to raise his two young children singlehandedly after the death of his wife. Meanwhile in a small town in Wyoming, a young prostitute is attacked by a drunken customer. Her fellow prostitutes raise $1,000 as a reward for the person who can kill her attacker. Eastwood is approached by the ‘Schofield Kid’, played by Jaimz Woolvett, who asks Munny to join him on one last ride out. Munny also persuades his old partner Ned Logan, played by Morgan Freeman, to accompany him.


When I think Cowboy, I think Clint Eastwood

The strength of the film lies in Eastwood’s directing and in the superb acting. Eastwood creates a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere despite the film being set in mostly large open spaces. Eastwood plays Munny with great precision. His looks could kill and his rough voice and tired appearance create a feeling that he is too old for killing but he is capable of turning these perceptions on their head in a matter of seconds with his ability to quick-draw and shoot down anyone who stands in his way. Gene Hackman is also excellent as the Sherriff whose job it is to run Munny and his gang out of town. He is arrogant and sure of himself despite flaws which become apparent as the film unfolds. Frances Fisher is strong as the Madame prostitute behind the $1,000 bounty whereas Morgan Freeman just appears to be along for the ride.


Beautiful title shot

Where I feel the film is let down is its length. At 131 minutes long, it feels much longer. I also felt that the character of ‘English Bob’ played by the late Richard Harris was unnecessary and detracted from the main story of the film.

While Unforgiven is now considered to be a classic of the Western genre and although I liked it, I didn’t like it as much as most other people seem to. 

6/10 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford


2007 was a very good year for Westerns with 3:10 to Yuma, There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men all joining The Assassination of Jesse James in being released in that year. While Jesse James is a good film, I believe that it is the weakest of this quartet.



The film focuses on the last few years of the life of famed Outlaw Jesse James, played by Brad Pitt. Pitt is joined by a strong ensemble cast which includes Sam Rockwell and Casey Affleck as James’ assassin, Robert Ford.

The first thing that needs to be said about this film is that as with many modern takes on the Western, it looks stunning. Vast open plains are shot with a fantastic use of natural light and artificial light is superbly used during a scene in which the James Gang attack and rob a train during the night.



The acting is also top notch. Rockwell plays his oft seen ‘crazy guy on the edge’; Affleck is well cast as the young, impressionable Robert Ford who is out to prove himself to his idol, Jesse James, who Pitt plays perfectly. He has the audience on the edge of their seat, guessing about his next move and when his mostly quiet and thoughtful Outlaw will next burst into anger like a bullet from a six-shooter.

One of the problems with the film is that because you know that it is about an assassination you are waiting for it to come for the entire film and as a result the rest of the plot just washes over you. When the assassination finally does come it is well played but the final act of Ford’s life after the shooting I felt was only skimmed over.

In the end, the film lacks Yuma's punch, No Country's madness and There Will Be Blood's tension but overall this is a film that is well worth watching, if only for the performances of Affleck and Pitt and the beautiful countryside in which it is filmed.

7/10