This past weekend I watched both Gunfight at Rio Bravo and The Five for the first time. I say first because even though I participated in the production for both films, on one of them as a background extra and, in the case of the other, I produced/directed for a company who then took over in post-production and finished the film without my input. Therefore, I had no idea what I was getting into when I popped in the DVDs, which by the way are available to order here and here.

Before I get into my take on these new Westerns, I’d like to point out some ironic connections between the two. Gunfight and The Five were filmed a year apart, May 2021 and May 2022 respectively. The primary filming location for both productions was Gammons Gulch Movie Set, north of Benson, Arizona. Other than my own participation, John Marrs played key roles in both films and some cast members from our 12 Westerns project appear in each (The Five is almost like a greatest hits of who played in the 12). It’s therefore ironic, and somewhat incredible, that these two films were released in the U.S. on the very same week. Made by different people and released by different companies, it is pure happenstance.

Perhaps one more connection between Gunfight and The Five is the influence, both directly and indirectly, of Quentin Tarantino. It would be hard to deny that the genre filmmaker’s shadow is not cast over the shoot ’em up, blood splattering fight scenes of Gunfight at Rio Bravo, which plays like an imitation of 80s Arnold action films with a slight nod to the Howard Hawks classic. It borrows style more than story from Quentin, whether intentionally or deliberately, and has already been described to me as Tarantino-esque by other viewers. As for The Five, I can speak directly to its inspiration. The film is actually a remake of a present day crime movie I made in 2013 called The Men Who Robbed the Bank, which was a Reservoir Dogs-like tale of bank robbers who turn against each other. Though I can’t stand the direction the once-promising career of Quentin Tarantino has recently taken, I have not been secret about the influence, even describing the script to distribution company Green Apple Entertainment as “Reservoir Dogs in the West”.

The similarities between these two Westerns drift off at this point. In many ways, I think the films represent the current state of the Western genre and the diverging paths it can take. Gunfight at Rio Bravo places nearly all its emphasis on action while The Five puts the focus on acting. Gunfight is about getting bloody and the body count (a few bodies get counted more than once if you look closely) while The Five is at least intended to be a character study. Gunfight is a slick, moderately-budgeted production with some recognizable names/faces from the martial arts/action world. The Five is a micro-budget Western with a cast of my favorite unknowns (at least they’re not known yet). I’m not sure of the exact amount Gunfight was made for but by my estimation The Five was produced for 10% or less of what they had to work with.

Since I participated in both films, I can hardly provide an objective perspective of their value. As a moviegoer, I think it’s fair to say they both entertain in different ways. As a filmmaker, I’ll admit that Gunfight at Rio Bravo exceeded my relatively low expectations and that The Five didn’t live up to what it could have been. As the writer/producer/director of The Five, I must declare that the color correction, music, and final editing choices often undermine the film’s potential. As a student and scholar of the Western genre, both of these movies reveal the trends, good and bad, in the current direction of the genre, which might be dictated more by distributors than directors. And finally, both films make me hope that the next ones we all make will be better.

-Travis Mills