Renewed Fox

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 25, 2020

One of the rarest of the great westerns in recent decades has been The Grey Fox, originally kind of an art-house release in 1982.  Canadian-made, it starred Richard Farnsworth, a career stunt man and extra, in the leading role, as old-time stagecoach robber Bill Miner re-inventing himself upon his release from San Quentin into a new era, ca. 1900.  It is one of the 55 great westerns but has been very difficult to find.  During the VHS era, it was fleetingly available in that less-than-optimal format, and then sometimes you could find a version of the laserdisc transferred to DVD.  But mostly it was unavailable, much to the frustration of its fans and those who would like to find it to watch for the first time.


According to long-time consultant Adam Sorensen at Lionsgate, Kino Lorber is now making a restored 4K print available for booking in theaters.  It’s certainly worth seeking out on the big screen if you can find it.  The performances are terrific, especially Richard Farnsworth in the title role, the cinematography looks great (particularly in the new trailer), and the celtic-inflected music (some by the Chieftains) fits marvelously.  If you’d like to make a booking inquiry, look here:


Best of all, this new theatrical release will presumably be followed by release of a high-definition DVD.  The long wait may almost be over!  Update:  The DVD and blu-ray of The Grey Fox are now scheduled for release on Sept. 8, 2020.

Further kudos to Kino Lorber for making A Thousand Pieces of Gold available for theatrical booking again.  This is another of the 55 great westerns (and the only one directed by a woman–Nancy Kelly) that has not been available on DVD, although you could find a digital version on Amazon Prime.  It has been available for booking for the last six weeks or so, but it does not seem to be widely available to the public.  Kino Lorber has announced a restored 4K blu-ray will be available on May 26, 2020.  Notice the new poster below, in which it is now being marketed as a “feminist western.”


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Wind River

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 23, 2017

Wind River—Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olson, Julia Jones, Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, Tantoo Cardinal,  Apesanakhwat, Martin Sensmeier (2017; Dir.:  Taylor Sheridan)


“This isn’t the land of waiting for backup.  This is the land of ‘You’re on your own.'”

This is a modern western set on western Wyoming’s Wind River Shoshone-Arapaho reservation, a mountainous area the size of Rhode Island.  Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a tracker and hunter with the Fish and Wildlife Service.  His normal duties consist of eliminating predators who prey on livestock in the vicinity, but as he tracks a renegade mountain lion in the wintry landscape of the reservation he finds the body of a young woman.  She has bare feet and has died from running six miles in the extreme cold while her lungs crystallized and hemorrhaged.  She has also been subjected to multiple rapes, so the death is treated as a murder.

Since Natalie, the young woman, is an Arapaho and her death occurs on the reservation, it is initially investigated by Ben (Graham Greene), the tribal police chief with few resources.  But since it may also involve non-Indian parties, the FBI is notified, and they send in a young, inexperienced female agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson).  It turns out the victim Natalie was a friend of Lambert’s daughter Emily, who had died in mysterious fashion a couple of years earlier.  That death broke up Lambert’s marriage to Wilma (also an Arapaho, played by Julia Jones), and, since Agent Banner needs a lot of instruction about local tribal matters and customs and even dealing with the extreme cold, Lambert becomes involved in the investigation.


With conflicting law-enforcement jurisdictions, the trail leads to Natalie’s brother (Martin Sensmeier), living with drugged-out types in a trailer and to Natalie’s white boy friend, whose body is also found a couple of days later on the mountain.  As Lambert’s hunting skills are brought into greater play and Agent Banner learns quickly, matters come to a head, with a satisfying conclusion.  Banner, who is shot, turns out to be tougher than she looked.  And Lambert administers some native-style justice.

The story is fairly straightforward, but it has a certain weight because of our investment in the characters, the margins of the conflicting cultures, the competing laws and jurisdictions and the magnificent wintry landscape.  Renner and Olson, as the principal characters, are both persuasive, especially Renner with the perennial sadness lurking in his eyes.  There is excellent use of a very good cast of experienced Indian actors as well.


Hunter Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner) and fledgling FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson) get on with the hunt.

This is the first feature film directed by writer Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water.  While the direction is not flashy, there are some moments, as when a helicopter shot takes us from behind a mountain peak over the crest to see a caravan of law-enforcement vehicles heading down a remote road, that show considerable skill.  But it is the story and especially the characters and setting that make us care.  This should be remembered at award time, but probably won’t be.

Shot near Park City, Utah, at 107 minutes.  Rated R for the violence of events investigated and for a couple of violent confrontations.  This compact film doesn’t necessarily tie up all the loose ends, but it does well.

HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES Mandatory Credit: Photo by CANNES FILM FESTIVAL/HANDOUT/REX/Shutterstock (8825676a) Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham Wind River - 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 19 May 2017 An undated handout film still provided by the Cannes Film Festival organization on 20 May 2017 shows US actors Jeremy Renner (L) and Gil Birmingham (R) in a scene of 'Wind River'. The movie by Taylor Sheridan is presented in the Un Certain Regard Competition at the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival running from 17 to 28 May 2017.

Lambert (Jeremy Renner) waits with Martin Hansen (Gil Birmingham), father of the victim.

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle had this response to the film:  “Wind River” is an impressive effort and an impressive result that opens up a world that most of us have never thought about and renders it with sorrow and vividness…  Yes, the story here performs its function.  It’s interesting and at times even exciting and suspenseful, but its emotional effect has much to do with the characters and our investment in them.  Taylor Sheridan, who wrote screenplays for “Sicario” and “Hell and High Water,” wrote and directed this with an unmistakable commitment to the place and the people he was depicting.  He takes us somewhere.  We learn the customs, and the world, and the weary philosophy that everyone seems to share, and come away almost feeling as if we’ve been there, or that these people and places have somehow become part of our interior landscape.”

For another good modern western featuring a hunter-tracker in a sparsely-populated west, see Last of the Dogmen.  For a similar sensibility in a different modern western setting (west Texas), see Hell or High Water (2016), also written by Sheridan and also very good.





Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Train Robbers

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 31, 2017

The Train Robbers—John Wayne, Ann-Margrett, Rod Taylor, Ben Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, Christopher George, Bobby Vinton (1973; Dir.:  Burt Young)

John Wayne was remarkable for being in good, even great, westerns throughout his career, even the late stages.  For example, the best westerns from the late phase of Wayne’s career (after True Grit) are The Cowboys and The Shootist, his last movie, with Big Jake having some attractions of its own.  Unfortunately, The Train Robbers, along with Rio Lobo, is one of the two worst from Wayne’s late phase.


Under the opening credits, a scene unfolds that is reminiscent of the opening of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, with Jesse (Ben Johnson) and Ben (Bobby Vinton) waiting for Lane (John Wayne, with no first name) to arrive on a train in dusty and apparently abandoned Liberty, Texas.  Joining them are Grady (Rod Taylor) with two newly-recruited henchmen.  It emerges through their talk that Lane, Jesse and Grady met as survivors of a Union action at Vickburg during the Civil War, which seems now at least twenty years in the past.  Lane has called them all together for an expedition into Mexico.  As the train arrives, so does Lane, accompanied by a female—Mrs. Lowe (Ann-Margrett, also with no first name).

Lane gradually gives them some backstory on the project.  Mrs. Lowe is the widow of Matt Lowe, leader of a gang that had stolen a gold shipment worth half a million dollars five years previously.  Lowe and two others had taken the gold into Mexico and hidden it there; only Lowe returned.  Now Lowe has been killed in a whorehouse, and six of the seven remaining members of his gang served as pallbearers at his funeral.  The implication is that they are in pursuit of Mrs. Lowe, as the band heads south of the border, leading an unusually recalcitrant mule packed with dynamite for no obvious reason.  It develops that Lowe had hidden the gold in the boiler of the locomotive of a wrecked train four days into Mexico.

THE TRAIN ROBBERS, Rod Taylor, John Wayne, Christopher George, Ben Johnson, 1973

Lane (John Wayne) renews his acquaintance with Grady (Rod Taylor).

Lane’s group sees signs that they are followed by at least twenty men, as well as by a mysterious stranger in a suit, played by Ricardo Montalban.  In due course, they find the wrecked train, with the gold stashed in the boiler as described.  But the twenty riders find them about the same time.  There are attacks back and forth, but, as Lane observes, the twenty apparently can’t shoot worth a damn.  There is apparently sexual tension between Lane and Mrs. Lowe, but he reluctantly concludes the age difference is too great.  “I’ve got a saddle that’s older than you are, Mrs. Lowe.”  As Lane’s group makes a break back for Texas, they keep an eye out for the remains of the twenty, declining to make a stand in the Mexican village because of potential damage to civilians.


Lane (John Wayne) and Mrs. Lowe (Ann-Margrett) at the site of the gold stash in Mexico.

[Spoilers follow.]  They arrive back in Liberty at night to find the bartender shot and themselves under fire, meaning that their adversaries got there first.  Lane uses the dynamite to blow up the few remaining structures in Liberty and apparently dispatches the remains of the faceless twenty.  The next morning as Lane puts Mrs. Lowe and the gold on the train, apparently to return it to the railroad for a $50,000 reward, Lane and his men chivalrously give her their shares of the $50,000.  As the train pulls out, Montalban on the rear platform reveals that he is a Pinkerton man hired by Wells Fargo, that Matt Lowe was never married and that Mrs. Lowe worked at the whorehouse where he was shot.  Lane and his men charge after her on horseback, saying they’re going “To rob a train!”

There are a lot of pieces that seem familiar from earlier Wayne movies, but they don’t come together all that well.  The names of Lane and Mrs. Lowe seem to come from the principal characters in Hondo.  Wayne had met Christopher George on the set of El Dorado, and found parts for him here and in Chisum.  This was one of two late Wayne movies (with The Undefeated) in which Ben Johnson plays his aging sidekick and mouthpiece, a device that becomes a bit tedious here.  One looks in vain for Bruce Cabot, who usually had a role in Batjac productions with John Wayne.  Australian actor Rod Taylor had been a big star in the 1960s (The Time Machine, Hitchcock’s The Birds), but his career was fading now and he has only a small part and third billing here.  His only other western was Chuka.  Wayne also appears to have been fond of Bobby Vinton (see him also in a small role in Big Jake), who was long past his teen-idol stage by 1973.  Ann-Margrett was not a great actress here, although Wayne apparently felt she tended to steal scenes.  At a time when revisionist westerns were in fashion, this is not at all revisionist.


Ann-Margrett in uncharacteristic headgear.

Writer-director Burt Young was a Wayne favorite dating back to the 1950s; his best writing was for the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott westerns of the late 1950s (Seven Men From Now, Ride Lonesome et al.).  As a director his high point was the comedy Support Your Local Sheriff.  Although he continued to make westerns into the late 1980s (many of them featuring trains), no others are very distinguished.

The excellent cinematography is by William Clothier, making his last film.  The film is not long, at only 92 minutes, shot in color mostly on location in Mexico (Sonora and Durango).  Music is by Dominic Frontiere.






Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Vengeance Valley

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 30, 2016

Vengeance Valley—Burt Lancaster, Robert Walker, Joanne Dru, John Ireland, Hugh O’Brian, Sally Forrest, Ted de Corsia, Ray Collins (1951; Dir:  Richard Thorpe)


If you were making a western in the 1940s or 1950s, you could do worse than start with a story from western writer Luke Short, as was done here.  This was Burt Lancaster’s first western, and its brother-gone-bad story is fueled by the excellent actors Lancaster and Robert Walker, who was nearing the end of his career and short life.

Owen Daybright (Burt Lancaster) is the foster son of range baron Arch Strobie (Ray Collins).  In addition to being Strobie’s foreman, part of his responsibilities includes training Strobie’s real son Lee (Robert Walker).  Although relations are apparently good between the foster brothers, it’s unclear how much real tension might be there.  As the movie starts, the two are returning from an extended period caring for the herds during the winter.  In town, they hear that Lily Fasken (Sally Forrest), who formerly worked at a restaurant, has borne a baby out of wedlock.  Mostly shunned by the respectable people in town, Owen finds her being cared for by Lee’s new wife Jen (Joanne Dru).  He gives her some supplies and $500, leading her brother Dick (Hugh O’Brian) to suppose that Owen is the father and send for brother Hub (John Ireland, then married to Joanne Dru).


Good brother Owen Daybright (Burt Lancaster) tries to talk bad brother Lee Strobie (Robert Walker) into doing the right thing.

We soon see that Lee is the real father of Lily’s child, and that Owen has feelings for Jen that he’s mostly hiding.  As the Fasken brothers try to take action against Owen, they are thrown in jail, and Owen and Lee head off to the spring roundup.  Lee is looking for a way out of his situation, and he tries to focus more of the blame for his own actions on Owen.  After Owen has a fight with a small-time rustler (Ted de Corsia), Lee arranges for the Faskens to be allowed into the roundup, where they can ambush Owen.

Meanwhile, Lee gets his father to make him a full partner in the ranch, and during the roundup he arranges to sell the Strobie stock for $40,000.  He hopes to make off with the money and use it to start anew in another location.  His marriage with Jen is falling apart because Jen has seen his selfish behavior for what it is.  But Owen crosses paths with Lee’s new buyer and confronts Lee, who then tries to lead him into the Fasken ambush.  Owen is wounded, but gets the Faskens, and Lee escapes.  Owen intercepts Lee, and there is a final confrontation between the two.


The nefarious Fasken brothers Dick (Hugh O’Brian) and Hub (John Ireland) are convinced that Owen ruined their sister Lily.

Despite the good performances by Lancaster and Walker, and Dru’s usual attractiveness, this is somehow lacking a spark.  Dru is mostly underused.  The subplot involving Dru falling out with Lee and Owen falling for her is underplayed, although a still from the studio (below) would seem to make it more overt.  One is mostly inclined to attribute the lackluster results to journeyman director Richard Thorpe, who had been directing movies for almost thirty years.  Lancaster would go on to better westerns (Vera Cruz, Gunfight at the OK Corral, The Professionals, Valdez Is Coming, Ulzana’s Raid) over his long career.  Walker would soon be dead of alcohol and a broken heart, with Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick having stolen his wife Jennifer Jones.  He could be an excellent actor in roles like the one he has here, as we have seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.


Lancaster, Dru and Walker in a studio still. Their situation never became this overt in the movie.

Shot in color in various Colorado location, at 83 minutes.  At a time when movies, including upscale westerns, were moving to widescreen forms of presentation, this is still in what is called “academy aspect,” the ratio in which movies had been shown for the previous decades.








Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

In a Valley of Violence

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 31, 2016

In a Valley of Violence—Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Formiga, James Ransone, Karen Gillan (2016; Dir:  Ti West)


Los Angeles Times writer Michael Rechtshaffen refers to this as part of the “The Great Western Revival of 2016.”  In fact, this slender renaissance in the western film genre began the previous year, in 2015, with such entries as Slow West, The Salvation and Bone Tomahawk, not to mention The Revenant and The Hateful Eight.  (See our post on Current Westerns for a more complete list.)  And now Ethan Hawke appears in two westerns released within a month—the remake of The Magnificent Seven and this smaller effort.

Writer-director-producer Ti West is more associated with horror/supernatural films than he is with westerns, but this is a respectable first effort in the genre.  Referred to by some as an “homage” to the western, it does feel like a collection of pieces from other westerns, with an overlay of spaghetti western sensibility.


The rider (Ethan Hawke) talks, but principally to Abbie, his dog.

A lone rider (Ethan Hawke) heading for Mexico encounters a priest going to the town of Denton in the next valley.  Sidelined by a lame mule, the priest attempts to steal the rider’s horse but is foiled by the rider’s small dog, Abbie.  The rider heads for Denton, where he drinks water in a bar while waiting for the local store to re-open.  The townspeople are jittery and one refers to the place as “a valley of violence.”  A local loudmouth named Gilly (James Ransone) picks on the rider’s dog, and we know what that will precipitate.  Rather than shoot it out with Gilly, the rider busts his nose.

The one-legged town marshal (John Travolta) is the ultimate enforcer, Gilly’s father and the cause of the jitters in town.  He is also under no illusions about Gilly’s faults and bullying.  He deduces that the rider has a cavalry background and is perhaps a deserter, but they come to an agreement that the rider will leave town.  As the rider camps at night in the hills south of Denton, Gilly and his three hoodlums kill Abbie and throw the rider from a cliff.


The marshal (John Travolta) instructs a resentful Gilly (James Ransone), while the hotel-keeping sisters (Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan) look on.

However, the rider does not die and makes his way back to Denton, encountering the priest again (he has been thrown out of Denton) and taking his gun and mule.  He also re-encounters Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga), the younger of two sisters who run the hotel in town.  Mary-Anne is seventeen, has been abandoned by her husband, and is desperate to get out of Denton.  The rider tells her his name is Paul, but he declines to take her with him.  She helps him anyway.

As Paul re-enters Denton, he gives the marshal a chance to stay out of the confrontation, which, of course, he can’t take.  One by one, Gilly’s three henchmen are disposed of, with Paul and the marshal continuing their one-sided dialogue.  Unable to stand it any longer, Gilly rushes to the street, facing Paul with the now-unarmed marshal between them (a set-up reminiscent of the great Leone).  Gilly precipitates an extended exchange of gunfire, with the marshal seeming to take the brunt of it from both sides.  Both Paul and Gilly are hit in the leg.  As Paul takes refuge in the livery stable, Gilly hunts him down.  The final shot is predictable enough that we can see it coming.

There are decent performances here:  Ethan Hawke as the traumatized rider Paul does well.  His version of The Mysterious Stranger is not so superhuman as Clint Eastwood’s.  However, we don’t know enough about him to engage fully.  His character is underdeveloped (the problem seems to be in the script), but interesting enough.  Taissa Farmiga, as the younger and more interesting of the hotel-keeping sisters, is quite plain but good.  John Travolta as a quasi-villain is not quite as over-the-top as some of his performances have been in recent years, and he’s more interesting because of that.  John Ransone as Gilly has a more modern feel to him, but the lack of concern for the intrusion modern elements in a 19th-century story is one of the reasons for a spaghetti western feel.  There are several very talkative characters here.  Paul talks, but mainly to his dog; he’s clearly not good with people.  Mary-Anne and Gilly talk all the time, and the marshal seems fond of hearing himself as well.  The larcenous priest (Burn Gorman) talks a lot, too.


Paul (Ethan Hawke) seeks revenge.

Why does this movie seem put together from elements of other westerns?  The opening scene, in which the priest attempts to rob a lone rider, reminds us of a similar opening scene in The Shootist.  The peaceable but possibly dangerous stranger harassed while drinking in a saloon is a pretty common trope (see Silverado, The Gunfighter and many others).  Killing a man’s dog to demonstrate the bad guy’s evil nature and provoke revenge has been used a fair amount (see Hondo and Big Jake, for example).  For a man thrown over a cliff who does not die, see The Last Wagon.  In fact, the protagonist who is all but killed and comes back to exact revenge is a staple of Clint Eastwood’s films, especially A Fistful of Dollars and Hang ‘Em High.  The one-against-several showdown moving through a town has also been used many times since High Noon, most recently, for example, in The Salvation in 2015.  The use of a vengeful woman in the final gunfight, thrown in at the climactic second, is becoming another cliché (most recently, see The Salvation and the remake of The Magnificent Seven).  Now you can feel it coming.

The film was shot near Santa Fe, New Mexico, in color at 104 minutes.  The excellent Morricone-esque score is by Jeff Grace.  Rated R for violence and language.











Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 30, 2016

The Magnificent Seven—Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matt Bomer, Martin Sensmeier (2016; Dir:  Antoine Fuqua)


The initial question is whether a 56-year-old classic with several iconic roles needs to be remade.  Of course, this classic was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, an even greater classic.  Just as with 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit in recent years, the answer is yes, this is a good western—not as great as the 1960 classic, but still worth making and worth watching.

Not much remains the same as in the classic—just the magic number of seven (although an argument could be made that there are eight here, including feisty widow Emma Cullen), the fight to defend the helpless against evil and insuperable odds, and the final result, with a few lines here and there from the 1960 film.  Of course, the same is true of any number of movies where our heroes put together a small team to pit their expertise in a righteous cause against huge odds:  The Professionals, The Dirty Dozen, The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Armageddon, etc.


The first two: Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington; note the gun worn butt-forward) and Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt).

Director Antoine Fuqua has a reputation for being good with large-scale action movies (as did John Sturges, director of the original), and he does well enough here.  He starts with good casting.  This time the leader of the seven is Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington, all in black), a “duly-sworn warrant officer from Wichita, Kansas, the Indian Territories and seven other states.”  The trailer says he is a bounty hunter.  He is approached by two homesteaders from Rose Creek (apparently in California), one of whom is Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), newly widowed.  (Her late husband, played by Matt Bomer, is alive when the movie starts but doesn’t even make it to the opening credits.)  When she explains her situation to Chisolm, he responds, “So you seek revenge.”  She answers, “I seek righteousness, as should we all.  [Pause.]  But I’ll take revenge.”  The revenge is against mining baron Bartholomew Bogue, played by Peter Sarsgaard with a hunch-shouldered evil-Richard Nixon vibe.  He wastes no time in persuading us of his badness, shooting an unarmed man point-blank and burning the local church.

Sam Chisolm:  “What we lost in the fire, we found in the ashes.”


For the next segment of the movie, the focus is on the recruitment of the rest of the seven.  The second member is Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a gambler, drinker and gunman whose horse is saved by Chisolm.  Then follow Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a well-known Civil War sniper, and his partner Billy Rocks (played by Korean star Byung-hun Lee, apparently equally good with guns and blades, although he prefers blades).  They take on an eccentric bear-like Bible-quoting mountain man, Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio).   And they are joined by war-painted Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier, partially of Tlingit ancestry).

Arriving at Rose Creek, the seven proceed with efficiently cleaning out Bogue’s caretakers.  Then come the sequences of training the citizenry and preparing the field for the return of Bogue in a week with much larger numbers.  The townspeople are game but don’t show much aptitude for weaponry, except for Emma.  Bogue returns as expected with dozens of hired gunmen (from the Blackstone agency, an obvious reference to the Pinkertons).  Initially the battle goes well enough, but it wears down the townspeople and the seven, albeit with a much greater toll on Bogue’s men.


Young widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) seeks help.

As his numerical advantage is reduced, Bogue breaks out a gatling gun, which seems able at some distance to seek out opposing forces with surprising accuracy, not just rapid fire.  The end will come as no surprise, with most of the seven down, but the town and the remainder of the seven winning.  The ending reveals more of Chisolm’s motivations in taking on Bogue, and Emma gets her revenge.

One of the strengths of the original 1960 movie was in the casting of the seven; with one exception (Brad Dexter), every one of them was a significant star by the end of the decade.  Here, the temptation is to see the seven more as ethnic types.  One would have welcomed a little more backstory on them, but the same was true of the original.  Ethan Hawke’s Robicheaux is traumatized by PTSD and nightmares, similar to Robert Vaughn’s haunted gunfighter in the original.  There is a knife-on-gun fight with Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks, as with James Coburn in the original.  We never really understand D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne, and Sensmeier’s Red Harvest remains determinedly enigmatic.  Chris Pratt’s character is energetic and interesting, but kind of scattered.


Some elements of the battle are predictable.  When we see that Bogue has an evil Indian in his ranks, we know that Red Harvest will have to deal with him.  As Chisolm gives Bogue too much time to talk, we can sense Bogue’s end coming from another source.  Sarsgaard is every bit as evil as required, but he’s not nearly as interesting as Eli Wallach’s Mexican bandit chieftain in the original.  Even the line about sheep being sheared seems flatter coming from him, because his character as written understands less.  Denzel Washington works well as a black leader of white men in the post-Civil War west, but nobody comments on it.  We never really know why Chisolm, a black man, and Robicheaux, a former Confederate sniper from Louisiana, are friends, although there is a brief reference to Chisolm having saved Robicheaux in the past despite their opposite sides during the war.

At bottom, Washington is good enough here that we’ll have to regret that he won’t be in as many westerns as we’d like to see him in.  His skill with a gun reminds one of Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars—perhaps not entirely believable, but good to watch and what we want to see from him.  As the vengeful young widow, Haley Bennett is surprisingly good.  If you’re wondering where you’ve seen her before, you may be surprised to remember her as a Britney Spears-esque teen pop star in the romantic comedy Music and Lyrics (with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore).  Within a month after the release of this film, she had a significant role in The Girl on the Train.  Between the two, they may constitute a breakout for her into stardom.


A significant part of the conflict in the situation is from bad men struggling to do good, mostly without really intending to and juggling their different motivations.  How compelling or rewarding is the impulse to do good, to help the defenseless against evil?  Usually religious settlers are depicted in modern movies just as ineffective simpletons.  Here religion seems to be taken a bit more seriously and given a bit more depth, by Jack Horne and by a number of others—a more accurate representation of why it is a positive force in the community.  When considering the odds on the night before the battle, Jack Horne (otherwise kind of a wild man) says that defending good people, fighting alongside men such he now considers the seven to be, is all he can ask for in an end.  That’s a good line and comes across as an honest assessment, for him.  Although there is melancholy for the dead at the end, it does not end with the feeling of Chris Adams in 1960 or Kurosawa’s samurai in 1954:  “The old man was right.  Only the farmers won.  We lost.  We always lose.”  Sam Chisolm definitely won here.

Of course, another thing the 1960 original got right was its musical score by Elmer Bernstein, with its unforgettable theme.  Of all the elements from 1960, audiences may be looking for a reprise of that theme.  It doesn’t show up until the closing credits, but that’s okay.  The 1960 theme had a certain optimism that is contrary to the mood of this remake, and the 2016 score by James Horner and Simon Franglen is in the tradition of Bernstein’s work while fitting in better with this film.  Excellent cinematography by Mauro Fiore.  Shot largely in Arizona; in color, at 133 minutes.













Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Virginian (1929)

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 28, 2016

The Virginian (1929)—Gary Cooper, Mary Brian, Richard Arlen, Walter Huston, Eugene Pallette, Chester Conklin, Jack Pennick, Randolph Scott, Charles Stevens (1929; Dir:  Victor Fleming)


This early talkie version of Owen Wister’s oft-refilmed 1902 western novel provides Gary Cooper with one of his signature roles in westerns, along with perhaps The Plainsman and High Noon.  At 28, he had been appearing in movies for about five years, many of them westerns.  And he had broken through to initial stardom with his role in The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), a western of sorts.  A lanky native of Montana, he proved to be a natural in westerns, starring in many of them for the rest of his career.  Although the tale seems old-fashioned now and provides the basis for some of the oldest clichés in westerns, many think this 1929 film is the best version of the story on film.  It was also the first major sound film to be shot outdoors, made on location in Sonora, California.

Most fans of westerns will be familiar with the outlines of the story.  Beautiful young Molly Stark Wood from Vermont comes west to Wyoming Territory to teach at a remote school.  The biggest rancher in the vicinity is Judge Henry, but despite his title there is little law in the territory.  Molly (Mary Brian) meets Judge Henry’s foreman, known only as the Virginian (Gary Cooper), and his sunny-tempered friend Steve (Richard Arlen).  Originally put off by the Virginian’s informality, Molly nevertheless develops an affection for him.


The Virginian (Gary Cooper) and Trampas (Walter Huston): “If you want to call me that, smile.”

That affection is tested twice.  In the first instance, Steve is corrupted by the rustler Trampas (Walter Huston).  When Judge Henry’s riders capture three of Trampas’ rustlers red-handed, one of them turns out to be Steve.  According to the rules of the time, they are all hanged, and the Virginian takes after Trampas.  As he tracks the rustler chief, Trampas shoots him in the back from ambush.  The Virginian’s horse takes him to the school, and Molly nurses him back to health, only to be horrified when she learns that he led those who hanged his friend Steve.

They manage to get past that, but on their wedding day in Medicine Bow, Trampas shows up in town and orders the Virginian out of town by sundown.  He actually says that the town isn’t big enough for both of them.  Molly tries ineffectively to talk her man out of doing what we all know he has to do.  As the sun goes down, Trampas shoots first, again from ambush, and the Virginian returns fire in a classic street shootout.  As the Virginian returns to Molly at their hotel, they fall into each other’s arms and the film ends.


Molly (Mary Brian) reasons with the Virginian, to no avail.  And Trampas (Walter Huston) shoots the Virginian in the back from ambush.

The production seems a bit stilted by today’s standards, and the makeup (especially on Brian and Cooper) is clearly of the 1920s.  But this is still a very good western.  There has probably never been a better Virginian on film than the young Cooper, and the film made Cooper a bigger star.  This was his second talking western, after Wolf Song, also directed by Fleming.  He reportedly had trouble remembering his lines, now that he actually had to say lines.  The most difficult part in this story is usually that of Molly, who can easily seem priggish and overly Victorian to current audiences.  Mary Brian is adequate and sometimes spirited in her way, especially when compared with, say, Barbara Britton from the 1946 film version with Joel McCrea.

The supporting cast is very good, too.  Richard Arlen is good at showing Steve’s good nature and making him sympathetic as he falls under Trampas’ sway.  At the time this was made, Walter Huston was better known than Cooper, mostly from working on Broadway; he was paid $20,000 to Cooper’s $3,400.  (Director Victor Fleming was paid $75,000, so we know who had the real clout here.  A prominent director since 1919, Fleming, of course, was connected with some of the best-remembered films of the 1930s and into the 1940s, such as Captains Courageous, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind and A Guy Named Joe—hardly any of them westerns.)

Rotund, gravel-voiced Eugene Pallette is one of the Virginian’s principal supporters in the film.  You’ll recognize him from the later Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood and the Tyrone Power version of The Mark of Zorro.  Silent comedian Chester Conklin makes a fleeting appearance.  Geronimo’s grandson Charles Stevens is in the cast as a Mexican.  North Carolina native Randolph Scott worked on the film as a dialect coach teaching Cooper how to speak as if he were from Virginia, and in a brief non-speaking part early in his career.  There had been earlier silent versions of the story in 1914 and 1923, but this one is better.  The film is in black and white, at 91 minutes.


Initially Molly (Mary Brian) is torn between the Virginian (Gary Cooper, left) and his pal Steve (Richard Arlen, right), but she chooses well.

This is probably one of the three foundational westerns from the 1920s.  If you want to see how many of the tropes, archetypes and lore of the modern western were developed, watch The Covered Wagon, The Iron Horse and this.  If you want to watch Cooper in another western from the early talking-movies stage of his career, try Fighting Caravans (1931).  If you want to watch another version of The Virginian for purposes of comparison, try Bill Pullman’s television version from 2000 with Diane Lane, which tries to make the language and situations more relatable to modern audiences, with some success.  The 1946 remake with Joel McCrea, Barbara Britton and Brian Donlevy is less successful.

This can be very difficult to find, since it’s not available on DVD.  Sometimes you can catch it on TCM or on the Starz Encore Westerns channel, and it’s said to be on YouTube.















Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Jane Got a Gun

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 11, 2016

Jane Got A Gun—Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich (2016; Dir:  Gavin O’Connor)


This female empowerment story with an extraordinary international cast and a clunky title had a bumpy path to the screen.  Originally, (Irish actor) Michael Fassbender was to star opposite (Israeli-born) Natalie Portman, but he left early on due to either (a) clashes with original (Scottish) director Lynne Ramsay, or (b) scheduling conflicts with an X-Men movie, depending on which version one believes.  (Australian actor) Joel Edgerton was moved from playing the villain to the role opposite Portman, and (English actor) Jude Law signed up to be the villain, only to leave shortly after Ramsay’s departure as director just as shooting was to start.  Bradley Cooper was then to come in as the bad guy, but also had scheduling conflicts.  Finally, (Scottish actor) Ewan McGregor was signed, Gavin O’Connor (director of the underrated Warrior) came in on very short notice, and the film was shot in New Mexico in early 2013.  Then it languished on the shelf for almost three years, while its distributor went into bankruptcy.  Eventually, the movie came to the Weinsteins and then to the big screen in early 2016.  Such turmoil in production often leads to very lowered expectations for the product.  It shouldn’t, in this case.


Jane (Natalie Portman) seeks help from former flame Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton).

In New Mexico Territory in 1871, Bill Hammond (character actor Noah Emmerich) rides up to the remote ranch he shares with his wife Jane Ballard Hammond (Natalie Portman) and young daughter, only to fall off his horse with five bullets in him.  He mutters something about the Bishop Boys coming.  After providing some doctoring to Hammond, Jane takes her (three-year-old?) daughter Kate to a neighbor for safety.  And then she seeks out Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton).  Much of the rest of the story is told in various flashbacks.

Frost and Jane had been lovers in Missouri before Frost left to fight for the Union early in the Civil War, ten years previously.  He was apparently some kind of hero in that conflict and now has some talents as a gunslinger, which is what Jane says she’s seeking.  In another flashback, we see that in 1866 Jane, believing Frost had been killed in the war, took her daughter Mary and joined a wagon train of women heading west under the leadership of John Bishop (Ewan McGregor).  Meanwhile, Frost had also come west in search of her and had eventually ended up asking Bishop, who was also looking for her by the time Frost came to him.


Jane (Natalie Portman) is not a natural with a pistol, although she can handle a rifle.

[Spoilers follow.]  Finally finding Jane married and with a child, Frost has apparently taken to drink and bitterness.  However, he reluctantly comes to Jane’s aid when she is attacked in town by one of Bishop’s men.  At the ranch Frost directs the effort in putting together a makeshift mine field in front of the cabin with mason jars, kerosene, nails and glass shards.  In more flashbacks, we see that Hammond was one of Bishop’s men.  He fell in love with Jane and rescued her from a brothel in Raphael, New Mexico, which is where the nefarious Bishop planned to take the women all along.  Jane’s daughter Mary had apparently been drowned, and current daughter Kate was conceived as a result of her brief stay in the brothel.

Another Bishop man shows up at the ranch, and Frost dispatches him.  The principal Bishop attack comes at night, with an incredible barrage of bullets shredding the ranch house.  However, the mine field works spectacularly, and the odds against Jane and Frost are reduced.  Both Frost (right shoulder) and Jane (torso) are hit, and Hammond is finished off, although he was apparently dying anyway.  Frost gets the last few attackers, but the final one is Bishop himself, who captures Frost.  Jane gets the drop on Bishop, and he claims that Mary is still alive.  As Jane blasts him, Bishop reveals that Mary is at the brothel in Raphael.


The makeshift mine field takes its toll on the attackers.

In the final scenes, Jane and Frost retrieve Mary, and Jane claims the rewards for the now-deceased members of the Bishop gang (including $5000 for Bishop himself).  She forgoes the $2000 reward on Bill Hammond.  With the proceeds, she, Frost (with arm in a sling) and their two daughters head for a new life in California.

The actors are excellent.  Portman, Edgerton and McGregor all appeared in earlier Star Wars movies together and are unusually capable.  One of Edgerton’s major roles a few years ago was in the very good Warrior, directed by Gavin O’Connor.  Here, Portman gets a producing credit, along with several others, and was the moving force behind it all.  Edgerton has a writing credit, as one of three.  McGregor doesn’t actually show up on camera that frequently, but he is snakily evil when he does, and his menace looms over the entire movie.  The film has some grittiness; it is rated R for graphic violence, brothel scenes, loathsome bad guys and some bad language.  But if you can stomach that, it’s not a bad western.  Jane’s costume design is unusually good, managing to look both 19th-century, attractive and utilitarian together—especially her hat, which looks good but is less authentic.  Women’s hats can be a problem in westerns (but see Linda Darnell in Two Flags West from 1950), although they would seemingly be a necessity for any woman who spent much time out-of-doors.


So what doesn’t work?  There is some excellent cinematography by Mandy Walker (the young lovers in a field of cattails, for example, and the explosion of the minefield).  But much of the night attack can be hard to see in the dark.  Although it’s not a long movie at 98 minutes, the story is lacking a spark of something.  Frost apparently did something extraordinary during the late war, but that isn’t established very well, nor is his status or skill as a gunslinger.  (Use of that term by Jane seems anachronistic.)  A couple of small scenes could have remedied that.  Perhaps the worry was that making the Dan Frost character a bit stronger would take away from focusing on Jane’s strength.  That doesn’t need to be the case, however; it can be a very good thing to have two strong characters to play off each other.  The storytelling is not entirely smooth, and things seem to bog down slightly from time to time as we wait for the next attack or flashback.

The inspiration for the title was apparently the 1989 Aerosmith song “Janie’s Got a Gun,” which plays on outrage for mistreatment of women and the helpless.  A better title would have let this story stand on its own, even though those themes are present here, too.  Movies with an overt ideological bent often do not thrive as stories; that’s why most revisionist westerns are not that good as westerns.  But this one mostly works.  Capable women with guns in westerns go back more than 70 years, at least to Loretta Young saving Gary Cooper in Along Came Jones (1945).  Strong, vengeful women with guns go back at least 45 years to 1971’s Hannie Caulder, with Raquel Welch, through Bad Girls (1994) and a number of others, and this fits into that genealogy.


The Bishop Boys, led by John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), get their orders.

This is also one of those movies in which young lovers are separated by the Civil War and afterward have to sort out the consequences—or are unable to do so.  See The Last Sunset, for example, and Cold Mountain.  More recently, see Forsaken, which is slightly better than this film.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone


Nicholas Chennault ~ March 5, 2016

Forsaken—Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Demi Moore, Brian Cox, Michael Wincott, Aaron Poole, Greg Ellis (2015; Dir: Jon Cassar)


Canadian father and son actors Donald and Kiefer Sutherland have not really worked together in a film before, although each has done westerns (Kiefer in the Young Guns movies, and Donald in a remake of Dawn Rider).  This is a traditional sort of western, presenting again the question of whether a gunman can reform, when despite his good intentions circumstances call him back to his former ways and skills (like many westerns from Hell’s Hinges to The Gunfighter to Unforgiven).

The movie begins with a flashback, although we don’t know that’s what it is yet, of a boy apparently dying of a gunshot.  Then come introductory shots reminiscent of films by directors Budd Boetticher, Sergio Leone and any number of other westerns, of a lone rider making his way across the landscape and the credits.  It is 1872 in Wyoming Territory, and this is John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) heading homeward to Fowler, where he has not been since he left to fight for the Union in the Civil War ten years earlier.


John Henry (Kiefer Sutherland) has returned, but he and his father (Donald Sutherland) have a difficult past and are still wary of each other.

His father is the Rev. William Clayton (Donald Sutherland), a white-haired, unyielding man from whom his son has long been estranged.  John Henry discovers that his mother is recently dead, and there seems to be little common ground with his father.  In town, we find that John Henry is a well-known gunman, although he says he no longer wears a gun.  He meets Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott), a southern-born gunman whom he treats with a modicum of respect, and Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole), whom he doesn’t.  They are both employed by James McCurdy (Brian Cox), who is trying to buy up all the surrounding land cheaply in anticipation of the coming of the railroad.

John Henry Clayton, explaining his failure to come home after the war:  “I was done with killing, but she wasn’t done with me.”


John Henry (Kiefer Sutherland) and Mary-Alice (Demi Moore) try to sort out life’s turns.

John Henry also encounters a former flame, Mary-Alice Watson (Demi Moore), who married someone else eight years ago.  Although there is clearly still some affinity between them, John Henry tells her she was right to have married Tom Watson.  Watson (Greg Ellis) is not so sure of his wife’s affections.  As McCurdy’s men increase the pressure and the violence, Tillman sees that John Henry is serious about not taking up the gun again, and they beat him mercilessly.  Mary-Alice helps the Rev. Clayton drag John Henry to his buggy, to her husband’s distress, and he decides to sell out.

John Henry revisits his family’s past. He starts clearing a field that he says his mother had wanted him and his father to clear together, although the father denies it.  Finally, he seeks some solace at church, where he and his father talk about the death of his brother William in a drowning accident when they were boys (echoes of one of Donald Sutherland’s best movies, Ordinary People).  And he confesses that he quit the gunman’s life when, defending himself against two attackers, he accidentally killed a boy in the scene we saw at the movie’s start.  We see Rev. Clayton start to work on clearing the field, indicating changes in his relationship with his son.


Father and son (Donald Sutherland and Kiefer Sutherland) work on their relationship, which is not as dreary as that sounds.

[Spoilers follow.]  As McCurdy’s violence mounts, John Henry maintains his resolve not to resort to his old skills.  But when Tillman and his boys knife the Rev. Clayton in town, and it looks like Mary-Alice’s husband is next, John Henry is pushed over the edge.  He gets out his gun again, and at the general store picks up a big LeMat revolver, which holds nine bullets and a 10-gauge shotgun shell.  There follows a classic extended saloon shootout, very well done.  But when John Henry emerges into the street, there is Gentleman Dave.  Pleading that he has left his Colt in the saloon and the heavy LeMat would put him at a disadvantage, he goes back into the saloon.  But instead of returning immediately to the street, he finds and initiates a showdown with McCurdy.  At the end, Gentleman Dave concedes that he no longer has an employer, and the two of them go their separate ways.  Narration by Gentleman Dave closes out the movie with what little is known of the rest of John Henry’s doings.

John Henry Clayton (coming to a decision):  “It’s time I did something right in my life.  This is what I know how to do.”


John Henry (Kiefer Sutherland) makes an entrance in McCurdy’s saloon.  Note the big LeMat in his left hand.

There is not much about this film we haven’t seen before, but it’s done well here.  The Sutherlands are good actors, and are convincing as father and son in a strained relationship.  The development of that relationship works.  John Henry Clayton is not so different from Jack Bauer (the relentless and deadly character he played in several seasons of television’s 24), it turns out.  He’s persuasive as the haunted gunfighter trying to quit, and he’s very good as the experienced killer who knows his business.  Demi Moore, who is not seen much on film these days, is also good as Mary-Alice.  She seems well cast.  One of the juicier roles, that of Gentleman Dave, is very well done by Michael Wincott, albeit in a strange hat.  He plays Gentlemen Dave with a courtly silkiness and quasi-ethical consideration that adds interest.

That is not to say that the film is without missteps. When Tom Watson confronts John Henry and demands whether he still loves Mary-Alice, he remains silent, feeding Tom’s fears.  The appropriate answer is “She’s married to you, and I respect that,” which he has already told her.  John Henry’s use of language changes.  At first, he speaks in a relatively uneducated manner, while his preacher-father speaks more formally.  But when he’s talking with Gentleman Dave at the end, he adopts Dave’s courtly form of speech with polysyllabic words.  That’s probably intentional by the writer, Brad Mirman.  Although not quite a classic, if you’re looking for a good traditional western, this is worth seeking out.  The end is curiously satisfying, seemingly formulaic but also true to the characters as they have developed.


Michael Wincott (dressed as Gentleman Dave), Donald Sutherland and Kiefer Sutherland on the set.

Apparently the original cut of the film was three hours and fifteen minutes long.  Deciding to trim it to focus on the father-son relationship, the producers have a final film less than half that, at 90 minutes.  They were probably right to do that, although one would like to see the longer cut, too.  Among the material on the cutting room floor are an introductory scene showing how John Henry was in a gunfight that led to his life as a gunman, and a subplot involving a young man drifting into the gunslinger’s life and leaving his girlfriend, while John Henry moves in the opposite direction.  Kiefer Sutherland was the moving force behind the film and putting it together.  He and director Jon Cassar had worked together on 24 (Cassar directed 58 episodes), along with co-stars Michael Wincott and Greg Ellis.

Made for a budget of less than $20 million, this is one of those productions involving a lot of Canadian talent, locations and funding, like The Grey Fox and Gunless.  It’s not clear what the title “Forsaken” refers to, unless it’s John Henry’s attempt to forsake his gunman’s life or his feeling that God has forsaken him.  This was filmed in Alberta near Calgary, and the cinematography by Rene Ohashi makes good use of the scenery.  The elegiac music is by Jonathan Goldsmith.  Rated R for violence and McCurdy’s bad language.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone


Nicholas Chennault ~ March 3, 2016

Diablo—Scott Eastwood, Adam Beach, Walton Goggins, Danny Glover, Camilla Belle, (2015; Dir: Lawrence Roeck)


It has been almost 25 years since Clint Eastwood, the greatest western star (see our post on Shooting Stars 1) since John Wayne, appeared in his last western, the impressive Unforgiven.  Now in his 80s, he is still working, but it seems doubtful he will ever appear in or direct another western.  Now comes his son Scott Eastwood (formerly known as Scott Reeves; his parents weren’t married) in his first western.  He has appeared in other movies (Fury and The Longest Ride, for example), and it appears that he may be a real actor.  Part of the enjoyment in watching this intensely psychological western is looking for those moments when Eastwood’s hair, the angles in his face and, just occasionally, his way of speaking remind one of his father.  It seems apparent from the movie posters that a little tweaking was done there to emphasize any resemblance to his father’s appearance.

As a psychological western with a significant twist, be warned:  there will be spoilers regarding that twist.  Read no farther if you don’t want to know it.  The movie develops slowly, and we are almost an hour into a short movie (83 minutes in total) before the plot starts to develop its point.  It begins with an action scene, of Mexican night raiders burning a ranch belonging to Jackson (Scott Eastwood) and abducting his wife Alexandra (or Alexsandra, which seems an unlikely way to spell it).  This is Colorado Territory in 1872; the titles inform us that it is seven years after the Civil War, so we assume that will play some role in the film.  Jackson assumes that the raiders have taken the “South Trail” toward New Mexico, and he follows.


Jackson (Scott Eastwood) follows on the wintry “South Trail.”

As the story develops and he follows deeper into the wintry mountains, two elements become apparent. Jackson is not very trail-wise, being taken unawares by an Indian boy whom he allows to escape, and being jumped by an itinerant Chinese trader and then by Ezra (Walton Goggins), a possibly deranged man claiming to own the road.  Ezra gratuitously kills the trader and threatens to kill Jackson.  It also becomes obvious that Jackson should, in addition to his rifle, be wearing a sidearm, since he gets taken by surprise so often when he doesn’t have the rifle.  When he finally does see the Mexican party at a distance, one of them shoots him.  Dying, he is visited again by Ezra and awakens to find himself in a teepee being attended by the Indian boy’s father Nakoma (Adam Beach).  They give him peyote, and it is revealed in a gruesome scene that Jackson accidentally killed his younger brother during the late war.  The Indians drive him out, and as he goes, Ezra appears and shoots several of them.


Jackson (Scott Eastwood) meets the volatile Ezra (Walton Goggins).

[Spoilers begin in earnest.]  The wounded Jackson visits Benjamin Carver (Danny Glover), a black man he knew during the war who now lives with his granddaughter in the mountains.  Carver offers to help, but is clearly afraid of Jackson, referring to Jackson’s service under Gen. Sherman as a killer and killing his own brother.  It now starts to become obvious that Ezra is Jackson’s alter ego, and that Jackson is a deranged killer, probably unhinged by killing his brother.  He is now using a pistol and moving like he knows very well how to use it.


Jackson (Scott Eastwood) encounters Alexsandra (Camille Belle) at a stream.

He finds the Mexicans, and approaches Alexsandra at a stream.  She flees from him in terror, and the Mexicans bolt for the south.  They come to an extensive hacienda/homestead and prepare for Jackson’s arrival.  He kills several of them, using the pistol with great efficiency and ferocity.  Invading the house, he finds himself in the same room with Alexsandra, who pleads with him to leave her in peace with the father of her children and then shoots him in fear.  She flees to the next room, and a badly wounded but still ferocious Jackson appears at the door.  The movie ends with a close-up of Jackson in freeze frame, but the soundtrack continues, making it sound like he shoots Alexsandra’s husband and perhaps Alexsandra herself.  Jackson is the “Diablo” of the title.

This movie won the Best Feature award at the 2015 San Diego Film Festival.  Subsequent audiences have not generally been so fond of it, perhaps because of its slow initial development and its bleak, nihilistic ending.  Scott Eastwood is an attractive young man and a decent actor, although not as good as Walton Goggins (Cowboys & Aliens, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight), who is downright scary as the murderous half of his mind.  Camille Belle, as the young Mexican woman Jackson may have abducted himself before the film began, has very little film time but does well enough with it.  We needed a little more backstory on Jackson earlier in the movie to avoid losing patience with the story; the sense is that it wasn’t quite playing fair and delayed the real developments in the story too long.


Eastwoods, pere et fils.

The film was shot in color in Alberta, as many westerns are these days.  The cinematography (by Dean Cundey) of the wintry landscape is beautiful, although it is not entirely clear what the season is and why some places are snowier than others, making it seem capricious.  The overhead shots of Jackson riding through the scenic landscape may be overdone.  This is the second film for director-producer Lawrence Roeck, who co-wrote it.  Overall, the movie is not as watchable a western as it could have been, but it shows some promise.  Rated R for violence.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone