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 Forty Eight: Jeremiah Johnson
Every time someone mentions how brilliant The Revenant is, I just want to tell them to shut up and go watch Jeremiah Johnson. For this filmmaker, the former is a phony, self-indulgent concoction; the latter is a tough-minded, bonafide masterpiece.
Sure, the Redford/Pollack film has some dated qualities, namely the folk songs which the film could do without especially since the score is so good. However, Jeremiah Johnson remains the ultimate frontier movie. Like that recent BS that won oscars, it deals with survival in the harsh wilderness, trappers/hunters, and revenge for family loss. Unlike the DiCaprio award show, it isn’t flashy, doesn’t invent for unnecessary reasons, and does not put visuals over character/story. Okay, I’ll get off the comparison wagon and focus on the film itself…
Redford has never been fully recognized for the physicality of this performance. As Pollack described, watching dailies on this film was mostly just seeing take after take of a guy wandering or riding through snow. It’s incredible to see how well he embodies the mountain man, a role he was born to play. Watch his movement as he cocks both rifles and slides off the saddle to avenge his family: his body is in perfect motion. Performance isn’t just in the voice and the eyes. It’s in the whole body and Redford demonstrates that with this role (one he was born to play) more than any other in his career. Pollack is also at home in this landscape and I wish he’d made as many Westerns as he did pictures with urban settings. He was clearly one of our most talented directors, one who could bounce from Tootsie to 3 Days of the Condor to this. I feel a great fondness for Pollack and miss his work in front of and behind the camera often.
This film is tough. It shoots straight. It makes us laugh when it needs to. It makes us sad when it needs to. And that ending… it has haunted me since I first saw the film as a kid.
Seen on VHS.