I continue to study the Western genre. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Western films. Listen here
This is definitely an 80s Western from the one-liners to kid-friendly cheese to the macho moments best exemplified by Danny Glover’s two guns Comando shot. It feels deeply embedded in the universe of Lucas/Spielberg movies, which comes as no surprise since director Lawrence Kasdan worked on both Indiana Jones and Star Wars. It’s also a film that plays incredibly well if you’re in the right mood. I was quite fond of it as a child, didn’t like it on a rewatch a few years ago, and surprisingly enjoyed it a ton the other night.
It’s hard not to love the ensemble cast. Some highlights for me are John Cleese, who I wish was in more of the movie, and Brian Dennehy, an actor who balances good and bad better than most. The four leads are all good too. On this viewing, I appreciated Kevin Kline’s gambler and the Linda Hunt relationship worked better. But Kasdan misses an opportunity in the love triangle between Kline, Rosanna Arquette’s pioneer woman, and Scott Glenn’s quiet hero. First, Kline’s character is too quick to dismiss Arquette. I think it would have been a stronger decision to have him wrestle with the possibility of settling down, perhaps deciding one way or the other by the end of the movie. Second, Glenn’s non-confession of affection for Arquette (“You make it hard on a fella”) seems to come out of nowhere. Is there a scene or two on the cutting floor that showed more between these two? I also don’t get why Glenn and Costner are so dead set on going to California. It seems like an arbitrary way to get them to ride off into the sunset, especially after the story’s resolution. If his conflict with the rancher was his main reason for not sticking around, why doesn’t he just stay? Furthermore, when things come back around to Kline at the end, suggesting the door might be open with Arquette, I felt the movie missed a serious opportunity to give Kline a bigger character arch.
Of course, I’m taking all this too seriously right? I’m sure that’s what some Western lovers might be thinking but I’m a filmmaker and when I watch movies, I study what works and what doesn’t. That’s why the action climax of the film is a mixed bag for me. The attack at the ranch is handled pretty well, aside from some ridiculous moments, but the showdown in the town is too formulaic for me. Instead of cross cutting the action, Kasdan shows us each separate showdown at a time. It’s a matter of professional taste, but this style isn’t effective to me. It leaves me wondering what the hell Costner, Glover, and Glenn are doing as Kline has his duel with Dennehy. Couldn’t they have at least come out on the street to watch? It’s all a little too convenient.
But hey, this movie is a fun adventure or at least an enjoyable ride for the right time.
Watched on YouTube