Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Fifty Three: Chato’s Land
Was Lawman a fluke, a random Western masterpiece from British director Michael Winner? The answer is no. Because he makes another film nearly as good with Chato’s Land.
This film continues the bleak world view of the Burt Lancaster shoot ’em up with an even more stone-faced star taking his place. My estimation of Charles Bronson continues to grow; he is one of the most perfect film actors, able to do so much by doing so very little. His Chato is nearly expressionless from beginning of the film to the end. If someone wants a true acting lesson, watch this, not some showy performance that won an Oscar. But his is not the only acting that shines in this picture. This might be my favorite Palance performance, at least that I’ve seen to date. I love the complexity of his posse leader: ex-Confederate soldier, sometimes cruel, sometimes fair, sometimes smart, sometimes stupid. I could not predict his actions but I believed all of them, down to the end.
What really blew me away about Chato’s Land is that it defies most narrative conventions. There is no real arch here for any of the characters. Bronson is for sure the protagonist but he’s also in many ways the antagonist as the antagonizes the humans we spend the most time with through the picture. He also does not change from beginning to end. No one does. The only lesson is death and therefore Winner’s film is a dark one. Also, it is a great one.
Seen on Amazon Prime.